It's only been 10 years since Federico Fellini died, but to the Star Wars and Matrix generations it might as well be a hundred. Along with Ingmar Bergman, Fellini was the embodiment of international cinema during the '50s and '60s. (Just ask Woody Allen, who broke his funny bone trying to imitate them.) And to this day, critics who are in a hurry use the word "Felliniesque" to describe movies that seem like...well, like Cirque du Soleil without the acrobatics ' funny, disturbing, erotic, grotesque, weird and, above all, dreamlike. There's a good chance that, as long as movies are remembered, Fellini's will be remembered, too ' 8, La Dolce Vita, even Fellini's Satyricon, which is memorably bad. But just in case il maestro is starting to slip from our minds, Damian Pettigrew has put together Fellini: I'm a Born Liar, a documentary that serves less as an introduction to the Italian director's life and work than as a salute to same.
Drawing upon 10 hours of interviews that Pettigrew managed to get out of Fellini in the months before his death, Fellini: I'm a Born Liar is billing itself as "an energetic philosophical inquiry," which is a fancy way of saying that Fellini, who never liked to talk about the nitty-gritty of his work, doesn't talk about it here, either. Instead, he waxes philosophical about the nature of art and film and art films. "For me, the things that are most real are the ones I invented," he says at one point. Usually, that's the kind of lathered blather that sends me running toward the exit, but Pettigrew has this way of undercutting the musings. After Fellini delivers a seemingly heartfelt tribute to actors and all the wonderful things they bring to the table, we're shown clips of him working with some, and you can practically see the strings dangling from his fingers, so fiercely does he control every word, every gesture.
So, il maestro was also il duce. What director worth his name isn't? Nevertheless, it's a kick to hear Donald Sutherland, who pranced through Fellini's Casanova, describe the man at the helm as "a martinet, a Tartar, a dictator, a demon." Other talking heads include Terence Stamp, who must have dined out for years on his story about asking Fellini for his character's motivation, and Robert Benigni, who does that comically unintelligible thing he does. Unfortunately, none of the talking heads is identified until the end credits, so we're not always sure who's who. Nor is it explained why Marcello Mastroianni and Giulietta Masina, without whom Fellini wouldn't be Fellini, failed to participate. But none of this will matter to those who only want to be in Fellini's company, to sit at his feet as he skillfully avoids saying anything that might pin his work to the wall like a butterfly. He claims to have never watched his films after they were completed. Of course, he also claims to be a born liar.