Something different from the usual celebratory documentaries looking back at the big titles in Federico Fellini’s filmography, Fellini Never-Ending (Fellini Fine Mai) resembles an untidy studio full of half-forgotten papers strewn over the floor and racy drawings tacked to the wall. In the spirit of its ungrammatical title, it’s not the easiest film to navigate, but there are gems to be found.
Taking the path of highlighting Fellini’s lesser-known works, the doc trudges along until its second half comes to life with a detailed account of two film projects that never saw the light of day, Trip to Tulum and The Journey of G. Mastorna. Film historians and plain-old Fellini fans will find much that is of interest here.
Director Eugenio Cappuccio (To Sleep Next to Her) graduated from the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia and, thanks to his acquaintance with the Fellini family in Rimini, immediately got a job as an assistant on Ginger and Fred, the 1986 film starring Marcello Mastroianni and Fellini’s wife Giulietta Masina. His voiceover accompanies much of the doc with personal comments and introductions to Fellini’s close collaborators and actors like Andrea De Carlo, Sergio Rubini, Vincenzo Mollica, Antonello Geleng and graphic artist Milo Manara. The result is a hodgepodge of people, moments, films and situations that together create a mosaic of the man.
“The visionary is the only true realist,” Fellini once said, and Cappuccio takes this motto to heart, editing together little-seen interviews and outtakes from the Rai Teche archives. The first half of the film trips through I Vitelloni and And the Ship Sails On, set in the director’s native Rimini, along with scenes from Nights of Cabiria and The City of Women.
One of the key figures Cappuccio interviews is Milo Manara, the Italian comic book artist famed for his naked girls and erotic fantasies. Their mutual admiration of each other’s creativity led to Fellini inviting Manara to illustrate his weird story Trip to Tulum, which never became a film. The comic appeared in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera in six parts in 1986, and Cappuccio recounts its fascinating origin.
Fellini and Manara were interested in finding Carlos Castaneda, the Peruvian-American shaman-author whose books Fellini had fallen in love with and whose The Teachings of Don Juan he wanted to film. One day his phone rang: It was Castaneda, who proposed a meeting in Los Angeles followed by a trip to the Yucatan together with producer Maurizio Grimaldi and assistant director Andrea De Carlo. Castaneda, however, soon left the trip while the others continued, but they were pursued by strange phone calls from a metallic voice which began giving them instructions on where to go. The eerie spell cast over their Mexican film scouting is well recounted by actress-writer Christina Engelhardt in a video call to Cappuccio.
This otherworldly tale is followed by a brief account of Fellini’s famous “cursed” project to make a film called The Voyage of G. Mastorna. It begins with a plane going down in front of the Cologne cathedral and the passengers emerging into a ghostly world between life and death. Cappuccio ends with an interview in which Fellini expresses his uncertain ideas on the afterlife, reaffirming his belief in creativity as one with the mystery of the universe.
Vincenzo Lucarelli’s rousing musical choices add gusto at the key moments.
Production companies: Aurora TV, Rai Cinema in association with Rai Teche
Director-screenwriter: Eugenio Cappuccio
Producer: Giannandrea Pecorelli
Editor: Graziano Falzone
Music: Vincenzo Lucarelli
Venue: Venice International Film Festival (Classics Documentary)