First Look Pictures // 2002 // 105 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Mark Van Hook (Retired) // January 12th, 2004
"Spontaneity is the secret of life." -- Federico Fellini
There were few filmmakers as endlessly imaginative as the great Federico Fellini, and few who were so completely aware of their own talents. His later films, as surrealistically introspective as any ever made, were bursting with ideas, and Fellini himself always seemed fully conscious of his ability to communicate the aspects of his life which both confused and inspired him. Some might interpret this as pretentiousness and, in a way, they would be right. But the pretentiousness is part of what made him great. For how many filmmakers today would have the sheer audacity to create a body of work that (at least in the latter half) is so clearly all about them?
Fellini: I'm a Born Liar is a riveting new documentary that uses interviews with Fellini and a number of his collaborators to create a portrait of a man who saw himself as many things: an impostor, a painter, a magician, a clown, a general and yes, even a liar. In the interview footage with Fellini, collected in 1993 just before his death, the Maestro goes into great detail about the aspects of his work that have fascinated and confounded audiences for generations, as well as revealing new insights into his working methods. He discusses such diverse topics as his feelings on art and cinema as an aesthetic whole and the role of the filmmaker in the creation of that art, his relationship with actors and the role of the actor in the actual filmmaking process ("puppets," he calls them) and his much-talked-about feelings towards women (he describes them as "the unknown planet"). These interview segments are interspersed with clips of Fellini's films, taken mostly from his later work, which seems natural as these tended to be his most autobiographical (especially 8 1/2, which is featured quite prominently).
All of this would come off as utterly self-aggrandizing were it not for the interviews with Fellini's collaborators, most of whom bring the discussion of his career and methods back down to earth. Donald Sutherland, for instance, appears to have great respect for Fellini's technique and methods as a whole, yet is lacerating in his recollection of his experiences with the Maestro (Sutherland starred Fellini's Casanova in 1976). "Federico and his relationship with actors was dreadful," says Sutherland, right after Fellini finishes saying the opposite. "He casts people because they represent what he wants in the film, and then he expects them to do it. And for him to have to detail to them what he wants is to two-dimensionalize his three-dimensional fantasy. And that irritates him, really, so he starts yelling at them, almost like a child." None of the other interviewees (which include Terence Stamp, Roberto Benigni, and Dante Ferretti) are quite so harsh, but collectively they help to create a balanced and carefully rounded portrait of the director that would otherwise come off as single-minded in its approach.
Fellini: I'm A Born Liar is presented by First Look Pictures in a solid 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer that features a clean, sharp source print. The film clips all look great and are presented in their original aspect ratios. The audio is in Dolby Digital 2.0 that alternates between English and Italian (depending on the person speaking), with English subtitles for the Italian speakers. There are no extras, save for the film's theatrical trailer and previews of a number of other First Look releases (that, for some reason, I couldn't skip past on my preview copy -- not sure if this was fixed for the official release).
In the end, I'm a Born Liar should be considered essential viewing for all Fellini fans, as well as those wanting to gain further knowledge of The Maestro's strange and fascinating career. It's certainly no puff piece, and it provides a detailed analysis of the director's work straight his own mouth, as well as from those who worked closely with him. It also stands to prove that while few directors were as high on their own artistry as Fellini, few directors made movies that could compare with his. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Look Pictures
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English, some dialogue in Italian)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer