Travelogue, memoir, and outrageous cinematic spectacle converge in this kaleidoscopic valentine to the Eternal City, composed by one of its most iconic inhabitants. Leisurely one moment and breathless the next, this urban fantasia by Federico Fellini interweaves recollections of the director’s young adulthood in the era of Mussolini with an impressionistic portrait of contemporary Rome, where he and his film crew are gathering footage of the bustling cityscape. The material delights of sex, food, nightlife, and one hallucinatory ecclesiastical fashion show are shot through with glimmers of a monumental past: the Colosseum encircled by traffic, ancient frescoes unearthed in a subway tunnel, a pigeon-befouled statue of Caesar. With a head-spinning mix of documentary immediacy and extravagant artifice, Roma penetrates the myth and mystique of Italy’s storied capital, a city Fellini called “the most wonderful movie set in the world.”
The Criterion Collection presents Federico Fellini’s Roma on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc. The new 1080p/24hz high-definition comes from a 2K restoration performed in 2010, scanned from the 35mm original negative.
It’s a nice, cleanly rendered image lacking any digital anomalies: no artifacts, no noise, no compression. It retains a natural, film-like look throughout, and delivers a sharp image where the source allows. When everything is perfectly in focus and framed just right, the level of detail can be very astonishing, like the fashion show sequence or the sequence with the underground frescos.
One area I’m still thrown off by, though, are the colours. It does look similar to the Masters of Cinema edition, but the colours do lean heavily on the yellow/greenish side of things. There are no pure whites, just this jaundiced, yellowish hue. There are some nice reds, greens, and blues, but I’m not entirely sure on the generally dirty, yellowish look to the film. This could be the intended look, but it does throw the image off in a few other ways, specifically the blacks, which can look a little milky, and shadow detail at is limited times.
The restoration itself has been methodical and I don’t recall any severe blemishes popping up, just some minor marks. And as stated before the digital presentation and encode itself are both solid: no digital problems popped out and clarity is superb, delivering some sharp textures and depth. Ultimately I’m still not sure on the colours and still feel the blacks are open to improvement, but it certainly does look very much like film.
The Italian mono presentation, delivered in linear PCM, sounds fine. Like a lot of Italian films at the time dialogue has been dubbed over, making voices sound a bit detached from their subjects. Lip movements also don’t always match to what is being said, most glaring during Gore Vidal’s cameo. This of course is all a byproduct of how the audio was put together and there isn’t much that could be done.
Outside of that the track is fine quality-wise. I didn’t detect any glaring issues and it sounds clean. Fidelity and range are lacking, lending a certain flatness in the end, but the track is otherwise fine.
Roma comes with a few supplements, starting with a new audio commentary by Frank Burke, credited as the author of the book Fellini’s Films. Burke offers a very academic analysis of the film, explaining rather plainly Fellini’s imagery, the possible context behind each of the film’s sections, the political commentary found underneath, along with sharing some technical aspects of the film. Although I can’t say the film is really all that subtle I was generally impressed by Burke’s skill in explaining what Fellini is doing, not just in this film but other works as well, so newcomers to Fellini may get quite a bit out of this if they feel lost. The unfortunate aspect to the track is Burke’s delivery, which is very dry, thanks mostly to the fact that it sounds like he’s reading from a prepared script, and he does so in a very matter-of-fact manner, without any real energy. I found Drew Casper’s commentary for The Asphalt Jungle a bit obnoxious, but I cannot say it was lacking energy. As it is, I think Burke has put together a solid academic track and I do recommend it, unfortunately there are times where it does feel like you’re stuck in a lecture hall.
The remaining supplements (found under the “Supplements” sub-menu naturally) start off with a 17-minute compilation of deleted scenes. Notes (with English subtitles translating them from Italian) open explaining when the scenes were cut out and how they were restored in 2010, pointing out that despite best efforts the colours are still faded. Footage from the finished film is edited into or around them to give an idea of their original placement in the film (the faded colours of the excised sequences help differentiate from the portions from the finished film). Surprisingly a lot of the cuts are actually quick snippets, and it appears that most of the footage was trimmed by Fellini to tighten up the film a bit (the notes mention that the studio did insist on this on trims, though). The sequence in the subway tunnels shows a lot of trims here and there, and the sequence where an individual is complaining to Fellini about how the film will present Rome to the rest of the world is put together a little differently. There’s also a deleted portion from the bordello that presents a calmer environment before the storm, and here I agree that keeping the energy up in that sequence was certainly the right move. The biggest cut, though, probably involves Marcello Mastroianni as himself, basically asking to be left alone until he realizes Fellini is there. Alberto Sordi also shows up. These are odd cuts but Burke, in his commentary, does talk about why they were probably trimmed out. None of the cuts really change much, but some of the trims admittedly are a bit odd.
Criterion then presents two interviews conducted by scholar Antonio Monda: one with director Paolo Sorrentino and another with Valerio Magrelli, poet and Fellini “friend” (I put that in quotes only because Magrelli underplays the friend aspect). Sorrento talks in detail about how Fellini’s films have effected and influenced him (La dolce vita being a big influence, at least in terms of The Great Beauty), and then explaining why his films work so well for him: it’s thanks to Fellini’s mix of technical skill and his imagination. He then talks about Roma and explains why he ranks the film higher in Fellini’s oeuvre Magrelli’s interview features the writer recalling working with Fellini and the various run-ins he had with him throughout the years before talking about his work and the appeals of his style. When it comes to Roma, though, Magrelli admits to not being fond of it initially, only coming around to it mildly over the years. I can’t say either of these interviews (which run 16-minutes and 17-minutes respectively) are terribly eye-opening, though neither are without value.
Next is Felliniana, a gallery of photos and promotional art presented as an 18-minute video segment with music from the film playing over it. In it you will find a large collection of posters from around the world, along with programs (which all appears to come from the collection of Don Young according to the notes), and these are then followed by production photos provided by MGM. In these photos we also get what appear to be photographs of a rehearsal for a scene that actually wasn’t filmed due to budget constraints.
The disc then closes with the film’s U.S. theatrical trailer and the large fold-out insert presents an essay by David Forgacs, who goes over the film’s appeals and its lead-up to Amarcord.
It feels surprisingly light in the end, despite the commentary (which I still liked even if it’s far from the most engaging track recorded). Still, I found it all worth going through.
It is a solid release in the end. Even though there were some slight reservations I on my part did enjoy the supplements and found the presentation very pleasing and film-like. I think admirers of the film will certainly be pleased by the release.