Fellini: I'm a Born Liar
Directed by Damian Pettigrew. (2003, NR, 105 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., July 18, 2003
After sitting for some 10 hours of taped interview with Canadian filmmaker Damian Pettigrew, Fellini declared the experience "the longest and most detailed conversation ever recorded on my personal vision." That may be, but the result is shockingly unilluminating, even dull. There is much vague and heady talk here of craft and vision and the artist as deceiver, but very little concrete recollection and certainly few insights into the master filmmaker that avid fans haven’t already gleaned from repeat viewings of his highly autobiographical work. It helps not a jot that Pettigrew has failed to provide any kind of signposts or additional information in this mostly talking-head documentary; interviewees are introduced only in the closing credits ("Oh!" goes the smack to the head. "That was Italo Calvino talking!" – or frequent screenwriter Tullio Pinelli, or cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno, and so on). The film also relies heavily on commentary from Donald Sutherland, Terence Stamp, and Roberto Benigni – recognizable actors, sure, but latter-day, bit players in Fellini’s long and storied career. Far more revelatory would have been anecdotes from wife and sometime-star Giulietta Masina or frequent collaborator and fictional counterpart Marcello Mastroianni, but these two are seen only in fascinating but brief snippets of archival footage. Much of Fellini: I’m a Born Liar’s running time is devoted to clips from Fellini films (never identified), juxtaposed with modern-day footage of the sets or settings, post-Fellini. They provide an interesting counterpoint, showing us how unremarkable, how undressed a place becomes without Fellini’s unique vision … but there’s only so far that conceit may be stretched before it, too, turns into a long yawn. One of the interviewees in the film – alas, I don’t know which one, as he was speaking in shadows and therefore could not be identified from the closing credits – had this to say of his friend: "By practicing his art, he revealed himself to us." Fellini: I’m a Born Liar provides proof positive: The art indeed reveals far more than this pedestrian documentary ever does.