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This review is from: Fellini - I'm a Born Liar (DVD)
As a professional film editor and Fellini enthusiast (I own over 150 scholarly texts on Fellini published in English, Italian, French, German, Spanish, and Portuguese), I feel well equipped to assess whether a documentary on Fellini is remarkable or mediocre. I have viewed this film several times on DVD and conducted extensive research on the critical reviews it received in America and internationally. In my opinion, I'm a Born Liar is a remarkable feature-length study that takes the scholarship of Fellini and his complex personality forward in many subtle ways. There are several reasons for this assessment but I would like to share the seven most significant points with Amazon readers:
1) Anyone with a good knowledge of the great director's work will be impressed by the extreme rigor involved in "the paring down to essentials" that this film displays: and it does so without sacrificing content or clarity. 2) It is strikingly edited by one of France's best editors, Florence Ricard (she won the coveted French `César' for her work on Microcosmos). Ricard not only tailors the rhythm to capture Fellini's physical presence in long sequences filmed with two cameras, she deftly manipulates the interviews and archival footage so as to interact with the film clips in such a way that meaning is blended with ambiguity, a cinematic quality that Fellini himself would have appreciated. 3) Lavishly produced, the film is an archival goldmine. It exploits haunting imagery of past film locations interwoven with film clips and rare documentary footage rescued from the archival obscurity of Europe's major television networks. These lengthy clips showing the Maestro at work are a major attraction that will appeal to experts and novices alike. Footage includes behind-the-scenes of Satyricon, Amarcord, City of Women, Juliet of the Spirits and Casanova as well as a fabulous scene left on the cutting room floor where Donald Sutherland (Casanova) leans forward to kiss a Moor. An uncanny sense of poignancy builds as we watch even rarer footage of Mastroianni on the set of La Dolce Vita and realize that the interviews with Fellini are the last recorded before his untimely death in Rome on October 31st 1993. (To my knowledge, there is no DVD on the market that offers such varied behind-the-scenes footage or exceptional ephemera as the newly discovered portrait of Fellini as a baby.) 4) I'm a Born Liar is an internal monologue of a movie (which is why clips and interviewees are not identified until the end credits) whose main theme is Fellini's obsession with women to the detriment of his long-suffering wife, Giulietta Masina. Marriage and infidelity are given perceptive treatment in abundant clips from Fellini's masterpiece, 8 1/2. Hanging the film's narrative thread on this central theme allows the film's director (Damian Pettigrew) to shape and control the unbelievably rich material: all the archival footage, all the clips from other Fellini films, all the interviews including Fellini's eloquent meditations on aesthetics, women, memory and dreams, all the locations shots, are made to reflect back upon the Maestro's obsession with the feminine, both sacred and pagan. David Denby's New Yorker review accurately sums up the film's qualities: "I'm a Born Liar is an extraordinarily controlled piece of film in its own right... Pettigrew and his colleagues provide a surrounding texture of film excerpts and freshly shot footage that has the density of one of the Maestro's own movies, without the excess." It is precisely this question of density that initially confounds the casual viewer but the film is nothing if not controlled in its narrative shaping. 5) Right from the opening credits, the viewer is given to understand that the film is not at all conceived as an introduction to the Maestro's work or intended as an overview of his career. Pettigrew wisely avoided using an off-camera narrator to comment on the Italian filmmaker's historical background (virtually every bio on Fellini has mined this familiar territory anyways), an intelligent decision as it allows him for the next 105 minutes to focus squarely on Fellini's unique temperament and his ferocious insatiability. In the words of America's foremost Fellini scholar, Dr Peter Bondanella: "There is no question that Pettigrew's film on Fellini represents the most detailed and lengthy conversation with him ever recorded... and few viewers of this fascinating documentary will remain untouched." (Cineaste Magazine Fall, 2003). 6) The film has had a very successful career: it was shown on the Sundance Channel and sold to television worldwide; won the prestigious Banff Rockie Award for Best Arts Documentary (it won over stiff competition from PBS, BBC, and NHK); was nominated for Best Documentary at the European Film Awards; made several lists as among the Top Ten Best Non-fiction Films of 2003; has been shown theatrically in over 14 countries; screened at Cannes, Edinburgh, and over 35 major festivals worldwide. 7) I'm a Born Liar functions not only as a clever posthumous couch-trip, it also serves as a "thrilling master-class in aesthetics." (A.O. Scott, The New York Times) In fact, Pettigrew's achievement is to have crafted a documentary fantasia on film aesthetics that retains the authority of a valuable historical document. While the film undoubtedly makes demands on the viewer and forgoes analysis of Fellini's exceptional work of the 1950s (no doubt due to problems of international copyright), the rewards are many. Highly recommended for the aficionado.