Fellini: I

on April 02, 2003 by Michael Tunison
A world-class fibber whose own stories about his life often bore no closer relationship to reality than his surreal cinematic masterpieces, Federico Fellini would no doubt enjoy the dreamily off-center approach of "Fellini: I'm a Born Liar." Canadian filmmaker Damian Pettigrew's documentary doesn't aim to supply much in the way of conventional critical analysis or biographical context for the maestro's influential work--rather, it seeks to shed light on Fellini's deeply personal creative process, a rather cryptic subject that at times makes the film seem downright, well, Fellini-esque.

At the center of the documentary are extensive interviews Fellini granted not long before his death in 1993, in which the auteur eloquently describes the volatile blend of instinct, inspiration and craft that led him to create such ground-breaking films as "La Strada," "8 1/2" and "La Dolce Vita." Chiming in with both adoring anecdotes and on-set horror stories are screenwriter Tullio Pinelli, cameraman Giuseppe Rotunno and actors Terence Stamp, Roberto Benigni and Donald Sutherland, the latter of whom remembers Fellini as "a demon" and the shooting of the temperamental filmmaker's "Casanova" as "hell on Earth." Behind-the-scenes segments show Fellini micro-directing less famous actors like puppets on strings or engaging in such fanciful pursuits as creating an eerily realistic sea out of plastic sheeting for 1983's "And the Ship Sails On." Pettigrew even managed to unearth some 8mm footage of Fellini and frequent leading man Marcello Mastroianni on the set of "La Dolce Vita." (Sadly, an archival interview with the late Mastroianni isn't included, and his perspective is sorely missed.)

While "I'm a Born Liar" assumes too much knowledge of Fellini's oeuvre and place in film history to be of much use as an general introduction--somewhat confusingly, interview subjects and film clips aren't identified until the end credits--the legendary director's enthusiastic participation makes it a must-see for buffs. Starring Federico Fellini, Donald Sutherland, Terence Stamp, Roberto Benigni and Italo Calvino. Directed by Damian Pettigrew. Written by Olivier Gal and Damian Pettigrew. Produced by Olivier Gal. A First Look release. Documentary. Italian- and English-language; subtitled. Unrated. Running time: 105 min.

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