Saturday, 9 February 2019

The White Sheik [1952]

Fellini’s roots in Italian Neorealism – he co-wrote the script for the first film in Rossellini’s masterful ‘War Trilogy’, Rome, Open City, and served as Assistance Director to the second film in that, Paisan, as part of his apprenticeship – are eminently apparent in his brilliant pre-La Dolce Vita oeuvre (I Vitelloni, La Strada, Il Bidone, Nights of Cabiria); however, his distinctive voice, motifs and stylistic preferences – deliberately overblown imagery, realism fused with fantasies, ebullient humour, etc. – were discernible too. The same held true even in his first solo directorial venture, The White Sheik, which, as cinephiles would find most fascinating, was jointly written with his great contemporary Antonioni. The film covers a couple of days in the lives of a newly-wed couple - Ivan Cavalli (Leopoldo Trieste), a gauche, glum-faced man with a nervous disposition, and his cherubic, naïve young wife Wanda (Brunella Bovo) – who’ve come to Rome for their honeymoon; however, given the ludicrously packed itinerary chalked out by Ivan, which includes making a good impression on his uncle (Ugo Attanasio) who has a great hold in the Vatican and meeting the Pope, this might be the dullest honeymoon imaginable. His obsessive plans, however, are put in a tizzy when Wanda, a bleary-eyed fan of the titular hero of a soap opera, gets lost during her quest to meet the gregarious and utterly unreliable actor (Alberto Sordi) who plays the part. The whimsical film beautifully scored by Nino Rota, despite its simplicity and straightforwardness, comprised of a number of quintessential “Felliniesque” tropes, including a fantastical movie-shoot sequence led by an excitable filmmaker, a comically inept suicide attempt, and a memorable cameo by Fellini’s wife, the inimitable Giulietta Masina.

Director: Federico Fellini
Genre: Comedy/Urban Comedy
Language: Italian
Country: Italy

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