In Search of Fellini is a strange, offbeat, quirky film which was inspired by a true story from co-screenwriter Nancy Cartwright (voice of Bart Simpson on The Simpsons). Executive produced by Monika Bacardi, Maria Bello, Kevin J. Burke,Nancy Cartwright, and Andrea Iervolino, In Search of Fellini is a odd little indie move which has its heart in the right place but absolutely falters as an experience.
Lucy (Ksenia Solo) is a young, naive woman who stumbles upon a film festival playing a series of Federico Fellini films. After she sees the magnificent La Strada for the first time she becomes completely enthralled in the rich imagery and storytelling. Lucy falls in love with Fellini's films. It's love at first sight.
She proceeds to rent as many of the filmmakers works as she can find. She consumes each and every one of them with the same rabid excitement. Each viewing brings her more joy and she implores her mother to watch some with her. Claire (Maria Bello), Lucy's mother, is ill and has sheltered her from experiencing life outside of her room and her daydreams. She encourages her daughter's enthusiasm.
Lucy's daydreams start to turn into a strange, offbeat journey when Lucy decides she must meet the filmmaker who made these films. She begins writing letters to people who might have a connection to Fellini. She is determined that she meet him. Despite getting many responses indicating that a meeting cannot happen, Lucy sets out to meet him anyway and she goes on a journey to find Fellini.
Along the journey, Lucy encounters a number of bizarre characters much like those in Fellini's films and environments which are quite reminiscent of sequences from his filmography. Each strange experience seems to lead to another as she journeys across Italy looking for her beloved director. Eventually, Lucy even starts to find romance with a fellow young man, which begins to brew new feelings inside her.
Intended in part as a love letter to Fellini, the film feels too earnest and well-intentioned to be completely loathe to everything about it. It's trying to pay homage to the great filmmaker. It attempts, repeatedly, to paint a portrait of why people love Fellini's films. It does so with so many clear references throughout the film. You can't 100% hate it. You can sense that the filmmakers at least tried.
However, to be frank, this film is essentially a lifetime quality television movie attempting to be a gem of an indie sensation for film buffs. In Search of Fellini is a frustrating, numbing, and awful experience. It's difficult to image diehard Fellini fans actually liking this movie after seeing it. Loving it? Inconceivable! That's a fundamental problem.
One of the reasons why it fails so terrifically is that it seems to only see Fellini's films at their surface level: the strange quirkiness which composes so much of his filmography. It's approach to exploring his style feels gimmicky and uninspired, lacking the same heart, pathos, and genius of Fellini. It's concept of Fellini is simply to be strange and offbeat. The result is a unwaveringly awful filmmaking experience which rampages from one poorly-conceived scene to another.
The movie has some below-average production design work by Todd Jeffery. Frequently trying to imitate Fellini's films, each sequence is staggeringly ill-conceived at actually conveying the spirit of these classics. It feels so false and uninspired by simply trying to recreate his work. Clearly intended as homage, to be fair, but the effort doesn't succeed.
Written by Nancy Cartwright and Peter Kjenaas, In Search of Fellini has a serious storytelling issue. The concept is okay. The fact that it wants to be a love letter to Fellini is charming. The execution is dire. The characters feel paper-thin and the story progresses into absurd directions.
Directed by Taron Lexton, In Search of Fellini fails at the highest level as a film on the directing scale. Making a love letter to a great filmmaker is one thing. Trying to emulate their filmmaking style completely is another. Lexton doesn't seem to grasp why Fellini's movies are so brilliant so many decades on: their heart, their soul, their majesty. These are the things that carry them. This is why audiences love them. This film doesn't come close to conveying that.
Presented on DVD in the original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement for widescreen televisions. This is a modest looking DVD release. The film has modern, digital cinematography and has decent clarity and detail.
English 5.1 Dolby Digital is provided. Though the film lacks an immersive surround sound mix, the music does occasionally create a wider soundstage. The dialogue is easy to understand. The release does lack in bass but is otherwise perfectly fine for this type of drama.
In Search of Fellini (SD, 9 min.) is a short behind the scenes featurette with interviews with the cast, crew, and filmmakers.
Audio commentary by writer/producer Nancy Cartwright and director Taron Lexton
Theatrical Trailer (and "bonus" trailer for This Beautiful Fantastic)
In Search of Fellini is a terribly botched attempt at making a ode to Fellini. It's an embarrassing made-for-television quality movie which doesn't even remotely manage to inspire the wonder Fellini's films can create. On paper, the idea for the film sounded excellent. However, with regards to the execution, In Search of Fellini leaves much to be desired.