Fellini - 2013 07 06 - The Voice of the Moon

Italy 1990
Directed by Federico Fellini
Running time: 120 minutes
Format: 35mm

Fellini’s last film was also the maestro’s most obscurantist effort. His camera keeps pace with Ivo Salvini (Robert Benigni), a freed mental patient who seems compelled by the sundry incantatory faces of lunar magic. If Fellini’s elaborately scaled set pieces evoke the confines of an oneiric, “Twilight Zone” asylum, truly the lunatics are running it. The panoply of Italian faces in raucous crowds seem preoccupied, as if dancing to a song Salvini can’t begin to hear. Their antennas are tuned to receive a noisy broadcast, whose message is to call out wrong steps on the dancefloor of existence – to placate, distract and mystify the quiet understanding Ivo seeks.

The film’s unnatural sets and absurd circumstances are a kind of circumscriptive extraction from reality. With these choices, Fellini builds the fictional town of Reggiolo with Baudrillardian brick: clay and mortar simulacra of urban detritus for which there are no originals. Like his hometown of Rimini, reconstructed for AMARCORD (1973), it’s too Italian to be Italian.

The only of his films to not acquire a US distributor boasts an essentially Felliniesque synesthesia. A biographical sequence comes to us in Ivo’s flashback of a summer he spent with his grandmother. He tells her a story about how he saw himself become a poplar tree. “I was able to translate sounds into colors, an experience that happened to me afterward. I could chromatize sounds. It’s a faculty that can surprise us, but which seems natural to me, given that life is a single thing, a totality that we have learned to divide, file, separate, tying different sensations together in different ways.” In this way, all of Fellini’s pro-filmic particulars betray their status as simulacra, since they cannot possibly be captured in their indivisible totality.

Benigni’s performances in YOU UPSET ME (Benigni 1977) and THE MOON (Bertolucci 1979) are punctuated with the same celestial beacon whose voice he hears here. This atypically sotto voce and meek Benigni performance recalls Pier Paolo Pasolini’s remark on the director’s use of actors: “Fellini always uses actors in a way that is extravagant, unexpected, and in a way that radically violates and forces a total reinvention of their film personalities.”

If this adaptation of Ermanno Cavazzoni’s Poems of a Lunatic seems narratively disjoint or even inscrutable, it’s because Fellini’s swansong aspired to the moon, the feminine, the total – a lunacy which rooted him into the earth. And as he was fond of reminding his audiences, “My films are not for understanding. They are for seeing.”

06 July 2013