Directed by Federico Fellini in 1972, Roma is a strangely compelling film. Part travelogue and part surrealist expose, the film is very much a love letter written to the city in Fellini's own inimitable style.
The film starts out by showing off the city in various aspects. We get a look not only at the architecture and some of the city's more famous landmarks, but a look at its various inhabitants as well. We see people going about their daily lives, sometimes in close up and sometimes from further away. The distance from which we observe all of this seems of significance, sometimes the film is quite intimate and other times not so much. From here a young man arrives and begins exploring the city, a metaphor for the director's own arrival in the city during the time in which Mussolini held sway over its populace. We know he's not a local, and it would appear that those he interacts with are also aware of this. He carries himself differently than those who live in the city and it's made quite obvious that we're supposed to pick up on this. After he has dinner with some locals, the film shifts gears and takes us out into the night time. Where there was once the hustle and bustle of a big city going full tilt, night time is different. Here the film provides some fascinating visual contrast as we see street walkers looking for clients and homeless men trying to find their next meal, all a short distance from instantly recognizable monuments, tourist attractions and sites of massive cultural and economic importance.
In the next sequence, Fellini once again shifts the direction he's taking us in as we travel into the bowels of the city and head underground. Here we witness a work crew uncover some ancient ruins. This quite literally stops them in their tracks, but it's short lived as soon after it's found it caves in on itself. From there Fellini takes us inside a brothel where we witness a wide range of male clientele making their selections from the house of ill repute's offerings. The director brings things full circle by taking us here and reintroducing us to the visitor who we met earlier in the film, keen to spend some money for a fleeting tryst with a beautiful local girl. This gives the picture some sense of unexpected closure as we witness them together not just in the act of sex but also the dialogue that they share.
This is an odd picture, but it's almost hypnotic in times. It doesn't follow the typical constructs of narrative filmmaking but neither is it a traditional documentary film. Parts of it are clearly staged and parts of it appear to have been captured on the fly as they appear quite spontaneous and unplanned. This gives the movie a very eclectic feeling and tone. With Fellini serving as our tour guide of the city he famously called the greatest film set in the world, we really don't know where we're going to go or what we're going to see. The whole thing feels very playful, particularly in the first half where what we see is almost entirely positive. The city is alive, it's busy, things are happening. As night falls and we see the seedier side of life in Rome, the tone is different. When we head underground with the work crew who discover the ruins, we share in their excitement as well as in their disappointment when it doesn't go as they'd planned. We witness firsthand how modern life can bulldoze the past and cause us, willingly or not, to have to forgo history in favor of progress. At the same time, this makes us question whether or not it really is progress when the cost is as high as it is in this incident.
Anyone familiar with Fellini's work will attest to the fact that his films are always a visual feast. Roma is no exception to this. His use of color in this film is often times quite striking and the film is filled with some absolutely gorgeous camerawork. There is a lot of contrast in these visuals as well, the old blending with the new, the wholesome and traditional juxtaposed against modernity and secularism, work and play shown in equal measure. Fashion and commerce collide with simple shots as basic as some nuns sitting on a bench outside a humble abode. Nino Rota's score presents the perfect background music for the picture. All of this serves to pull us into the picture, awash in swirling color and the rhythm of the city that held such a place in the director's heart.The Blu-ray
Roma is presented on a 50GB Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition in its original aspect ratio of 1.85.1 widescreen and it looks excellent. Transferred from a new 2k scan of the original 35mm negative, the image is rich with detail and texture and demonstrate very impressive color reproduction. Black levels are nice and strong and skin tones appear lifelike and natural throughout. There is still some minor print damage here and there but for the most part the image is quite clean and very stable. Grain is evident but it always looks natural and it's never overpowering. There doesn't appear to be any obvious edge enhancement or noise reduction and the image is free of any obvious compression artifacts.Sound:
The only audio option for the feature is an Italian language LPCM Mono track. Optional subtitles are provided in English SDH only. The audio here is just fine. Dialogue is clean and properly balanced against the score and effects. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion and the score sounds quite lively in spots.Extras:
Extras start off with an audio commentary with Frank Burke, the author of Fellini's Films, that puts a heavy focus on the visuals featured in the movie and the symbolism that stems from said visuals. It's a really detailed track with a lot of insight into the director's motifs and traits and a great amount of information regarding how this picture fits in alongside a lot of his other works.
Criterion has also assembled some interesting featurettes starting with a new sixteen minute interview with filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino. Here he speaks about the direct influence that Fellini's films had on his own work and output as well as some of the recurring themes that appear throughout the late director's filmography. From there we spend seventeen minutes with poet Valerio Magrelli who shares some great stories about meeting Fellini during the making of Casanova before then going on to offer some input and opinions on what makes the director's work so enduringly popular and why Roma in particular stands out. In Felliniana we get a nineteen minute piece that is essentially an animated still gallery showing off a collector's assemblage of Fellini related memorabilia and a collection of behind the scenes stills from the making of Roma.
Criterion have also included eighteen minutes of deleted scenes that were taken out of the film by the director while preparing his final cut of the film. A text piece precedes each scene that gives it some context. Outside of that we get a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection. Inside the keepcase along with the disc is an insert booklet that contains credits for the feature and the Blu-ray release as well as an essay on the film written by David Forgacs.Final Thoughts:
Roma is as fascinating as it is strange, a cinematic love letter to one of the most important cities in the history of the world delivered through Fellini's unique world view. Criterion's Blu-ray release contains a nice selection of supplements that document the history of the film and explore its impact and importance while the feature itself is presented in excellent shape with very fine audio. Highly recommended.