Admirers of Federico Fellini will certainly appreciate this panegyrical documentary by Damian Pettigrew, which from time to time mimics the atmospheric, phantasmagorical style of the late director himself. (A habit of cutting from a shot in a Fellini film to a dreamy contemporary view of the same locale is characteristic.) Aficionados will surely by taken by the extensive excerpts drawn from an interview with Fellini himself made shortly before his death, as well as footage of him working on set and recollections by people who collaborated with him–not only actors like Donald Sutherland and Terence Stamp but art directors, writers, cinematographers and effects men. (Their remarks are usually adulatory, but sometimes critical–especially Sutherland’s. He was clearly not a happy camper on “Casanova.”) And who could object to the many scenes interpolated from “8 1/2,” easily the director’s most autobiographical film, to comment upon his creative life? It is, after all, a masterpiece even in such an attenuated form.
It must be admitted, however, that for all the incidental pleasures it affords, “Fellini: I’m A Born Liar” is hardly earth-shattering. It tells us repeatedly that Fellini thought of himself as a conjurer who thought his own creations more real than the “actual” world. To be honest, that doesn’t come as an enormous surprise. For another, it informs us that his working methods were unusual. That’s not unexpected. And it shows that his partners were often perplexed by him but staggered by his genius–again, nothing one wouldn’t assume.
Nor will the picture work particularly well as a biography. It doesn’t give many simple facts about Fellini’s life or career. It doesn’t even bother to identify interviewees until the closing credits, or to specify the pictures from which scenes have been lifted for insertion into it.
Of course, none of that will matter to devotees, who will recognize the elliptical, enigmatic mood as reflective of the subject and go happily with the flow. There may be better straight introductions to the accomplishments of this most poetic of cinematic artists, but for the already initiated this will serve as a welcome remembrance of a uniquely gifted man.