Federico Fellini and I have had a rocky past. Before watching The White Sheik, I had only seen four of Fellini’s films including 8 ½, La Strada, Variety Lights, and Amarcord and had only liked the first two. 8 ½ and La Strada are both Italian masterpieces, the latter more acciable while the former is unique and requires several viewings. Unfortunately The White Sheik goes into the Amarcord and Variety Lights camp.
There were a couple good things about this film, well, more like great moments. The moment that stuck out the most was the film/comic book/ photo shoot scene on the beach. Any cinephile or lover of “film within a film” sub genre will love this scene and how Fellini constructs it. Its Fellini’s attempt to convey that art is a living breathing thing; showing a photo shoot played out as a film shoot. It shows the evolution of the image. The other scene that made me want to like this film, was the scene where Ivan starts to cry in a square due to the disappearance of his wife, then out of nowhere Giulietta Masina (Fellini’s future wife) makes a small appearance as Cabiria. Her presence just lightens up the film and puts a smile on your face. She starts to comfort him while at the same time intentionally ridiculing him. All I could say is that Giulietta Masina is a gem.
Overall, the film didn’t do much for me. As a comedy this film only made me chuckle, but in that Disaster Movie type of way. Italian comedies always seem to me as if the writer and/or director tries too hard conveying their type of slapstick comedy onto the audience. As the film was playing, the eyes of your fellow writer started to wonder to his cell phone checking the time every other minute. Never a good sign.
Fellini’s chauvinism has always been an issue and this film doesn’t sway from that conflict. From the beginning the husband is seen bossing his wife around chastising her for going into the elevator with the hotel porter. Wanda gets punished through out the film for going after a fictional character which ends up being a complete douche bag. The guy who played the White Sheik didn’t convince me that this young woman would fall in lover with him. Who in their right minds would go after a man who wears lipstick and masquera.
I have to say, this film was a perfect tie in with the previous film Knife in the Water, both of the films deal with a married couple and a third party who shakes their foundation. Even with my negative remarks about this film, I am glad I watched it. You could see where Scorsese got some of his camera movements and anything that reminds me of Scorsese is worth taking a peak at.
Of course my mind went into overdrive while watching the scenes with actor who played the white sheik and I wondered who I would of casted as the White Sheik. Here I go: Just imagine walking on the beach minding your own god damn business where out of nowhere a group of ninjas attack you. Your defenseless, you accept your fate, then out of the ocean, ALAIN DELON comes galloping towards you and saves your life. He never utters a word and gallops back into the ocean. That’s how you start a movie.
I enjoyed watching Fellini's White Sheik. Probably not as much as I enjoyed 8 1/2, but it was a fine first film full of the filmmaker's future fingerprints. He guides the story ably and creates three complex characters with who we empathize equally. I also enjoyed the few parades sprinkled through the movie as the forerunner to the grand climax of 8 1/2, my favorite Fellini film.
Of course, being his first solo directorial effort I was pleased with half of the story being set with in the constructs of a set. Granted, in the film they are making a fumetti, "photographed comic strips with romantic stories," or soap operas in magzines. My favorite movies are about making movies and throughout his career, Fellini enjoyed deconstructing the construction of films.
If you have never watched a Fellini movie, you might as well start at the beginning with White Sheik. While it does not strive for the Italian neo-realism of Rosselini or DeSica, it does set up what would be Fellini's magical career in cinema.
While my reviews are usually lentghy, I do take a back seat when I have a friend like Alex sharing on a post like this. My awesome and loyal readers get a whole lot of my opinion on film when they read my blog, but I think Alex has some great insight and usually offers a different opinion from mine and I'm glad that you get to enjoy both of them.