I’ve posted images and plugging the movie’s last screening at the Bloor Cinema. Finally saw it, and this is what I think of the movie.
The film’s about sexual fantasy. Really. The longer version is that the film’s about sexual fantasy and the male gaze in the context of a small Italian town in 1939 – I know it’s 1939 because of the “Beau Geste” references, but anyway. The film does start with the town’s air full of puffballs, a sign of springtime, which is itself a sign of youth and sex. I make it sound so dry. Don’t worry, boys, there’s a lot of well proportioned women in this movie, and there’s lots for the men to choose from. One of those women is Gradisca, the hairdresser in red. There’s Gina, a servant who gets touched in the behind by one of her old bosses. There’s the well stacked lady who own the tobacco shop. There’s Volpina, a prototype of the town crack whore, yet the men don’t reject her because she has the same energy as them. Not even the women are blatantly shown in telling her to slow down.
As Andrew O’Hehir writes, the film’s obviously sexist. It has the same, shallow comedian’s understanding of gender – men want sex and most women just wanna settle down and have children even if they have to entertain a million toads to find a prince. I know I’m gonna sound like an apologist by writing this, but the women come out better than the men because of Gradisca’s monologue.
Besides, promoting these sex-driven thinking also mean that there’s no guilt involved. Sexual fantasy is a communal experience, and a boy’s allowed to share his feelings to his peer group and to trusted elders, like a priest. By confessing to a priest, the boy technically feels like a sinner, but he doesn’t try to make the label stick and there’s no judgment nor hellfire. It’s in the typical Southern Catholic attitude when the average person has to do penance but he can totally party the night before. Conversely, Uncle Teo’s the only one who seems more perverse while shouting for his need for a woman atop a tree in a farm. The audience can blame his depravity to his isolation.
Speaking of fantasy and community, there’s also scattered twenty-five minutes worth of the film spent on portraying fascism. The film shows most of the town’s citizenry as optimistic under Fascist Italy, a country of hope and idolatry. Even Gradisca succumbs to fainting orgasms when talking about Il Duce. This lack of guilt nor remorse shown in the townsfolk is refreshing and realistic compared to other texts tackling the material. It is possible that the citizens of a country under dictatorship do not know about the oppression and cruelty that its government enacts towards minorities or outsiders until a later time. Sounds familiar. It’s something that they believed in even though they knew nothing about it. The depiction of the fascist element adds to the complexity and surprising maturity in Fellini’s later work.