Architecture on Film: Fellini's Roma

100 years to the day after Fellini’s birth, the UK premiere of Cineteca di Bologna’s new 4K restoration of the Italian director’s bold, lavish and kaleidoscopic love letter to the Eternal City.


08:30pm, Monday, 20 January 2020


01:30pm, Sunday, 26 January 2020


Cinema 1
Barbican Centre, Level -2
Silk St, London, EC2Y 8DS



AF Members:
£9.60 (Please contact AF for promotional discount code)


Young Barbican:

Tel (9am-8pm):
+44 (0)20 7638 8891

Monday 20 January, 20.30: 

Sunday 26 January, 13.30:

This is a past event

We are delighted that these screenings will be introduced through a specially pre-recorded presentation by Alessandro Carrera (Director of Italian Studies, and Graduate Director of World Cultures and Literatures, at the University of Houston, Texas, USA; Author, Fellini’s Eternal Rome (Bloomsbury, 2019)). 

Due to public demand, this film will be screened twice:
Monday 20 January, 20.30: [Sold Out]
Sunday 26 January, 13.30: [Sold Out]

Fellini's Roma

When I was a boy, I wanted to travel and see the world, but then I found Rome and found my world.
– Frederico Fellini, I, Fellini

Arriving to Rome in the 1930s during the time of Mussolini, ‘Fellini’ (played by Peter Gonzales) arrives to an eccentric boarding house. Pleasures of gastronomy and the flesh, the sacred and profane, saturate a portrait of the physical and psychic depths of the city as the film proceeds into the present (1971), to find a place shared by Roman ruins, a new ring-road, brothels, vaudeville, hippies and even – in Fellini’s unforgettable ‘Ecclesiastical Fashion Show’ – roller-skating priests.

A narrative that has a city for its protagonist instead of a single character… This is Fellini’s Rome and nobody else’s… The only sly thing is that the city isn’t Rome, it’s Fellini, disguised in bricks, mortar, and ruins.
Rodger Ebert

Featuring cameos from Gore Vidal and Anna Magnani, and music by Nino Rota, Fellini’s open, episodic collage of fantastical tableaux combine to create a truly idiosyncratic piece of exuberant cinema, a fever dream and imaginarium folding Rome and Fellini’s biographies into a surreal, hallucinatory and irreverent ode to the Italian capital.

We are delighted to be able to present the UK premiere of Cineteca di Bologna's new 4K restoration of Fellini's Roma, on the 100th anniversary of the director's birth.

(Italy, France, 1972, Frederico Fellini, 120 mins)

Programme Notes by Alessandro Carerra

La dolce vita, Fellini Satyricon and Roma, Fellini’s Roman trilogy, reject the usual narrative based on cinematic “acts”. La dolce vita is made of seven major episodes, Fellini Satyricon is a road movie with no beginning and no end, and Roma is made of nine episodes without a main character to guide us through the journey, but with Fellini himself in the shadows. Fellini first appears in Roma as a young man (played by Peter Gonzales) arriving in Rome. He then appears in person in the traffic jam sequence, wearing a dark overcoat, and later being interviewed by a group of students, to whose criticism that his film may be another complacent and apolitical portrait of the city, Fellini replies, “I think one should do only what appeals to them.” His voice alone enters the soundtrack in the brief, final exchange with Anna Magnani at the door of Palazzo Altieri where the actress lived, when Fellini says that this lady who returns home along the walls of an ancient patrician house is perhaps the symbol of the entire city. Magnani promptly denies it. “Who would I be?” she says, “A symbol of what? Federico, go to sleep. I don’t trust you.”

Anna Magnani was right not to trust her old friend. Fellini’s Rome is an autonomous entity, neither a realistic city nor the recognizable capital of a country. The Roman Church, as Fellini portrays it, looks like the Italian alternative to Hollywood. Fellini’s Rome is a plebeian conglomerate whose inhabitants are ruled (Fellini’s words) by a “gastrosexual” cycle, an obsession with food, sex and their attachment to an overprotective mother (either the Mediterranean Goddess or the Catholic Church) who saves her children from anxiety disorders but prevents them from becoming adults. When the film was released, many Romans resented such an unfair portrait, yet Fellini had grasped a real (if not realistic) feature of the city.

Industrialization and the growth of the working class, which both marked the modernization of other major European capitals, largely bypassed Rome. After Rome became the capital of Italy in 1871, the steelworks that were to begin the process of the region’s modernization were built in Terni (50 miles from Rome), not so much to preserve the beauty of the old city but to prevent the creation of an organized working class. At the end of the 1930s, Rome was a city of small businesses, traders, bureaucrats, and of an idle middle-class who lived off rents or the land they owned outside the city. That anti-modern, plebeian, and mostly poor city changed after WWII into a chaotic metropolis no one was prepared to handle. For fifteen hundred years, Rome had been a relatively small town. At the beginning of the 19th century only 20,000 people lived inside the Aurelian walls. It grew fast from 1945 to 1960, but it grew by 27% from 1961 to 1971. No zoning law was able to curb the urban metastasis that the city had become. It is from this historical and urbanistic point of view that we must grasp the meaning of Fellini’s Roma (1972), an intimate, autobiographical documentary that soon crosses over into baroque deliriousness. At the beginning, it’s the dream of a city. It soon becomes a nightmare, but only for those who insist in making sense of the city. Very few Romans, as Fellini describes them, spend their time trying to make sense of the place where they live. In Gore Vidal’s words (interviewed in the banquet scene, toward the end of the movie), “I like Romans because they don’t care if you live or die. They are neutral, like cats.”

Roma consists of nine episodes: 1 - Rome as a pagan dream (and therefore an alternative to Catholic education) as perceived by the boys of Fellini’s generation; 2 - the arrival of young Fellini in a popular neighborhood inhabited by grotesque characters; 3 - a hellish traffic jam on the GRA, the freeway that surrounds Rome (completed in 1970); 4 - Fellini meeting with college students who are worried he will not include a social message in his film. Fellini’s answer to which is to recreate a pathetic variety show in a popular theater during WWII, interrupted by the Allied airplanes bombing the city (many Romans believed that their city would be spared because “We have the Pope”); 5 - workers digging the underground subway tunnel who find an intact Roman house from the first century AD, which will not survive its encounter with modernity – a descent into the city’s unconscious and one of Fellini’s gems; 6 - hippies on the Spanish Steps who remind Fellini of the years when the sexual education of young males took place only in brothels (Peter Gonzales as young Fellini appears again in the brothel scene); 7 - an outlandish parade of “ecclesiastical fashion” in which the so-called “black aristocracy” dreams of the return of the last pope (Pius XII) who came from their ranks; 8 - a street banquet interrupted by police charging against rebellious students, followed by Fellini’s meeting with Magnani; 9 - fifty bikers coming from nowhere, storming through a deserted Rome and then leaving like new barbarians who came to conquer but found nothing they liked.

When La dolce vita was released (1960), Roberto Rossellini, Fellini’s mentor and a true Roman, declared that it was the film of a provincial. Orson Welles, who lived in Italy in the early 1960s, said that Fellini’s provincialism, his young man’s dream of the big city, was essential to his charm. Fellini never resented being called a provincial. To him, we are all provincial when it comes to the threshold between physical and metaphysical reality. Rome to him was very “carnal” (the obsessive presence of prostitutes testifies to that) and at the same time it belonged to another reality, “eternal” and “internal”, always dying and yet always alive. Again, as Gore Vidal says (whether his words were suggested to him we don’t know), “It’s the city of illusions, the Church, the Government, cinema, all illusion makers…”

In the end, it’s cinema. Almost everything we see in Roma was re-built in the lot or studios at Cinecittà. For the final scene, however, the entire city itself was transformed into a Fellini Studio. The bikers cross the Garibaldi Bridge, whiz past Castel Sant’Angelo, the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle and the Spanish Steps, Piazza Navona, Piazza del Popolo, the Quirinale, the Campidoglio, the Forum and the Colosseum, until they take Via Cristoforo Colombo at Porta Ardeatina and disappear towards Ostia and the sea.

Traffic had to be stopped, powerful and very expensive lights had to be installed on every building. On the evening when the bikers were to race past Castel Sant’Angelo, Fellini sat in his director’s chair, arms folded, eyes downcast. The bikers were ready, the lights were on, Rome was waiting, but Fellini did not feel inspired and sent everybody home. The final edit of the Castel Sant’Angelo scene lasts no more than four seconds, and because of the cost of the scene one of the producers went bankrupt, but to Fellini, as the critic Daumier says in 8½, losing money was part of the producer’s job. Even in a real location, Fellini was always filming the “eternal city” as well as the “internal city” that he carried within himself. And too bad for the producers.