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MGM Studios DVD presents

Fellini's Roma (1972)

"See, I told you! It's like a combination of the Circus Maximus and a brothel."- Theater Patron

Stars: Peter Gonzales, Frederico Fellini, Marcello Mastroianni
Other Stars: Dennis Christopher, Fiona Florence, Gore Vidal
Director: Frederico Fellini

Manufacturer: Warner Advanced Media Operations
MPAA Rating: R for (nudity, some language, sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:58m:28s
Release Date: 2001-04-10
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BB+C+ D


DVD Review

Frederico Fellini's Roma is probably one of the most unique films that any director has ever made about himself. Filmmakers often pay tribute to their origins and histories by creating autobiographical pieces, but Roma is something very different. Here, Fellini pays homage to his childhood home in a way that only he could manage: by not making much sense at all. This is not a criticism, but an accurate representation of an ambitious project that, although pretty bizarre, plainly represents Fellini's love for his home and the land that embraced him as an acclaimed filmmaker.

Roma is a plotless series of vignettes, attempting to recollect Fellini's memories of growing up. At some points, the director himself narrates, adding a bit of meaning to what is being seen; but in general, the entire film is a mixture of realistic portrayals and strange metaphors of his world. It begins with the early years in his life; we see segments about his childhood just outside the city and his first time visiting Rome itself, where he encounters the manic and strange family he will be living with. His first day there ends with an evening at an outdoor restaurant where we are introduced to Fellini's interpretations of the various folks living in the neighborhood—most of them very gaudy and brash. As the film moves on, it gets more non-linear and moves between modern day and the past. We see Fellini and his film crew driving down a busy highway, observing the activity, or spying on tourists. There are other exaggerated flashbacks to the fascist days of Italy's government, his recollections of seeing his first film, and memories of a local brothel.

The end result of this approach is a strange epic, filled with amazing visuals from the realistic to the wildly fictional. It really doesn't make much sense because it isn't explained in detail, but that's definitely the charm. He wants to immerse you in the culture, have you witness it with a child's eyes, much like he did while growing up. There are arguments that the bizarre and outlandish things that go on in some of these skits are insulting to Italians, because it makes them all seem immoral or mentally deranged. I'd have to disagree, though, because an undercurrent of humor is present, as well as the obvious element that this is one man's memories. This is not the actual world of Italy, but rather Fellini's Roma as the title suggests. It is the Italy of his mind, and not just some romantic video tour guide. Perhaps the most infamous segment of the film is the Catholic fashion show in which groups of Cardinals and Bishops engage in a weird pageant that only Fellini could envision. Again, with the wrong eyes, this may seem blasphemous, but I doubt this was the intention. Rather, it shows how the exotic ceremony and pomp of the Roman Catholic church might appear to someone growing up in its midsts.

The visual style and presentation are top-notch, and truly fit the enormous scope of the film. Frederico Fellini commands this movie in a very distinct and powerful way. The wonderful set pieces, such as the neighborhood of his youth, are a stylized combination of stage set and film set. Perhaps that's the best way to interpret the film; like a burlesque show of all things Roman put on by one of Rome's best showmen. Originally, before I saw the film many years ago, I had heard that it was for "hardcore Fellini fans only." Although I've never been a big fan of Fellini's entire body of work, my two favorites are Roma and Satyricon, mostly because of their surreal atmosphere. Anyone who enjoys creative and unusual filmmaking should also find a lot to enjoy here.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: I honestly was expecting much worse from this disc. To my happy surprise, the image looks pretty good for a film this age. Although the source print is a bit spotty (the film really needs a repair job), the transfer itself is impressive. It has good depth and wonderful balance of colors and black level. I've seen the VHS many times, and this version is miles above it: much cleaner, better rendered, and sharp. While there are speckles and holes in the source, it will certainly please fans. Even the smokier scenes do not suffer from artifacts or pixelization. Unfortunately, there is no anamorphic enhancement. While the film is only widescreened at 1:66:1, many argue that's enough of an aspect ratio to warrant 16:9 treatment.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The Italian mono audio is about what you'd expect for the age and genre. It sounds generally good most of the time, but it's also very flat and harsh to a certain extent. The DVD doesn't make the soundtrack any worse than before, but it doesn't make it all that much better, either. Still, it's listenable and there are no problems with unclear sound or dialogue.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+ 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: I was disappointed, but not surprised, at the bare-bones treatment here. A theatrical trailer (in fairly weak condition) is the sole extra. There are some nice menus, but it can't really make for the lack of chapter stops, 16 being barely enough for the two-hour film. The new, player-based subtitles are nice and seem better written than previous versions, but they're also a little too big in my opinion, taking up too much frame space. Also, the subtitles do not translate everything, often leaving many lines of background dialogue up to the imagination. The case does feature a single sheet insert (I guess MGM is going back to inserts), but it's nothing special. On the up side, the version on the disc is not the altered/edited version that occasionally pops up (with the additional, English narration).

Extras Grade: D

Final Comments

Frederico Fellini was a legendary figure in Italy, and considered one of the greatest filmmakers in history. Roma is a bit of insight into why his people loved him so much and is also a pretty original look at an interesting culture. Fans should buy the disc for the upgrade in visual quality, despite the lack of features, but others might just rent.

Dan Lopez 2001-04-14