There's something unabashedly nostalgic, but not necessarily fusty, about Italian veteran Ettore Scola's memoir of his friendship with the legendary Federico Fellini. In many ways, it's really nice to see an 81-year old director work at a film so defiant of traditional characterizations; Che Strano Chiamarsi Federico is not a fiction, but despite its basis in fact it can't be called a documentary either, and it switches from black & white to colour at the director's whim.

     At the same time, there's a certain wariness in the fact that this slight but heartfelt memoir becomes, towards its end, a sort of real-life Cinema Paradiso - a celebration of the transformative magic of cinema, something Mr. Fellini seemed to make a point of underlying at every point in his vast career. But the big difference is Mr. Scola is drawing on his own memories and experiences and recreating the central moments of his friendship with Mr. Fellini.

     Using the legendary Stage 5 at Rome's Cinecittà as "nerve centre" of the work, transformed by designer Luciano Ricceri into the offices of the Italian satirical newspaper Marc'Aurelio (where both Messrs. Scola and Fellini started as writers) or into the streets of Rome Mr. Fellini drove through at night to chase insomnia, Mr. Scola creates a sort of free-wheeling fantasia that collapses time and space in a manner recognisable to those who have minimum knowledge of the golden years of post-war 20th century Italian filmmaking. Film is here a sort of "grand illusion" that attracted an entire generation of talents, some of which appear in the film recreated by actors, and it is that generation's story that Mr. Scola tells through his lens, giving walk-on supporting roles to screenwriters Ruggero Maccari, Agenore Incrocci or Furio Scarpelli, director Steno or actor Marcello Mastroianni (in a hilarious gag where Mr. Mastroianni's mother shows up to ask why does Mr. Scola always makes her son look ugly in his films).

     As I said before, this isn't a documentary - though there is a loose chronological flow and archival footage is occasionally used, most of Che Strano Chiamarsi Federico is really a recreation, and here and there a rather creaky one, suggesting a director who is no longer on top of his game. But there's also a welcome lack of pretense or pretension, a sense that this is a pet project carried by genuine emotion and respect and that follows a personal flow rather than a scripted commission - and that certainly gives it an added touch that makes me overlook any insufficiencies the film may have.

Italy, 2013
93 minutes
Cast Vittorio Viviani, Sergio Pierattini, Vittorio Marsiglia, Antonella Attili, Sergio Rubini, Tommaso Lazotti, Emiliano de Martino, Giacomo Lazotti, Emanuele Salce, Miriam Dalmazio, Carlo de Ruggeri
Director Ettore Scola; screenwriters Mr. Scola, Paola Scola and Silvia Scola; based on an idea by Roberto Cicutto; cinematographer Luciano Tovoli (colour); composer Andrea Guerra; designer Luciano Ricceri; costumes Massimo Cantini Parrini; editor Raimondo Crociani; producers Mario Mauri, Carlo degli Esposti and Mr. Cicutto; production companies Palomar, Paypermoon and Istituto Luce-Cinecittà in association with Rai Cinema and Cinecittà Studios
Screened March 24th 2015, Lisbon (distributor DVD screener)


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