‘Marco Ferreri: Dangerous but Necessary’ (‘La lucida follia di Marco Ferreri’): Film Review | Venice 2017

The Lucid Folly of Ferreri Still 1 - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Venice Film Festival
A fondly passionate reappraisal of an anti-conformist filmmaker.

Italian filmmaker Marco Ferreri (1928-1997) springs to life in Anselma Dell’Olio’s portrait.

How would he like to be remembered, a journalist once asked Marco Ferreri — as a social critic and satirist, or a poetic visionary? “I don’t want to be remembered at all,” the helmer of La Grand Bouffe cut him off.

Italians like their directors to be “maestri,” someone remarks in Marco Ferreri: Dangerous but Necessary (La lucida follia di Marco Ferreri), an amusing, multi-layered portrait by journalist Anselma Dell’Olio. Fellini, Visconti, Rossellini were maestri; Ferreri was not. He was a one-of-a-kind filmmaker who upset the good taste and artistic codes of his day, and whose work has unjustly fallen into oblivion. This fast-paced documentary, bowing in Venice Classics, should stir up memories and perhaps relaunch a wonderful director with audiences who love movies.

Ferreri saw himself as a simple, linear filmmaker who “showed things as they are,” earning him piles of scandal. He was perhaps the last Italian director capable of shocking the bourgeoisie with non-titillating nudity and a casual acceptance of the sexual mores of his time, but even more with his non-conformist way of thinking and seeing the world. His vision bypassed the Marxist ideology prevalent at the time and ridiculed leftism.  

Dell’Olio, a film critic who worked on set with Ferreri as a dialogue coach and adaptor, brings a light touch to this fond portrait of the great visionary and pathfinder who was far ahead of his time. Leaving aside narration, she orders the doc by topic — films, food, flesh — and collects impressions of an elephant through the eyes of many witnesses, each bringing out a different side of Ferreri.

Roberto Benigni, who starred in Ferreri's kindergarten comedy Seeking Asylum, is brilliantly articulate on the subject. He reads a poem he wrote to Ferreri at the beginning of his career, calling him a “gifted gnome” who was part Rabelais, part revolutionary. His short height and rounded form reminded people of a jester, the kind who were once hanged by the tongue for the dangerous truths they said. Ferreri himself sometimes referred to his films as “Buffoon Cinema,” mocking conventional wisdom while saying very serious things.

His father was a banker. Ferreri loved animals and aspired to become a veterinarian before realizing it was even better to love people. But animals featured prominently in his films like Bye Bye Monkey with Gerard Depardieu and The Ape Woman with Annie Girardot.

For Philippe Sarde, the French composer who contributed the music for numerous Ferreri films, he was an extremely delicate and refined director. Actors loved him, as Ornella Muti and Andrea Ferreol attest, and there are select comments from Ferreri regulars Marcello Mastroianni, Ugo Tognazzi, Michel Piccoli (star of Dillinger Is Dead) and Philippe Noiret. A critical appraisal today would probably agree with Dell'Olio in placing Ferreri among the pantheon of Bunuel, Fassbinder and Pasolini, the “archangels of destruction and of resurrection.”

Production company: Nicomax Cinematografica in association with RAI Cinema, Fenix Entertainment
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Roberto Benigni, Hanna Schygulla, Ornella Muti, Sergio Castellitto, Andrea Ferreol, Dante Ferretti
Director-screenwriter: Anselma Dell’Olio
Producers: Nicoletta Ercole, Mauro Cappelloni
Director of photography: Ennio Guarnieri
Editor: Stuart Mabey
Music: Philippe Sarde, Alessandro Micalizzi
Venue: Venice Film Festival (Venice Classics)

80 minutes