And The Ship Sails On (1983) dir. Federico Fellini

Such a wonderful concept. A cruise ship in 1914 sets sail with a number of eccentric folks to disperse the ashes of a famous opera singer. Fellini creates the ideal scenario for him to indulge himself though he cuts a nice pace here with just the right amount of class and abandonment to make for a remarkable viewing experience. Film uses the narrative device of a ‘reporter’ that speaks directly to the camera, gossiping about characters and making enthusiastic comments about the proceedings. This helps give the film an air of mirth and self deprecation it may not have otherwise had. There are other moments where the film comments on itself – references that draw attention to it being a set and the final shot exposing the camera technicians and the entire crew.

This film also provides a fictional account of the events that may have led to WWI. It paints a not so flattering picture of the European elite prior to the war – taking them to task for their extravagance and self absorption. Fellini makes murky comments about class division and there seems to be a bridge he might be trying to build between the entourage’s behavior towards the crew on the ship and their embracing of the Serbian refugees in the final act but it’s disconnected and not clear. Fellini plays it coy here and I believe he was wise to do so. Life is often a combination of intent, perception and the situational. Our morals and sense of duty can fluctuate from circumstance to circumstance. A scene in which the opera stars sing to the men working down below in the furnace is one of the greatest things I have ever seen in cinema. There is a love sick rhinoceros on board the ship in this film for no reason. I love that. Really. This film is a pure joy and an ode to the creative in every way.

This is one of my favorite films by Federico Fellini. It was financed by a millionaire in the United States who was a huge cinema lover. He lost money on the whole thing but said it was a one of a kind experience that he doesn’t regret. I’m not sure if this is true. Reportedly Fellini ran over budget on this guy and didn’t give a damn about it simply yelling “I must have it!!” over and over when he came up with some new lofty idea. I’m a big Fellini guy but I dig the later period films the best. I know I am in the minority here. ‘Amarcord’, ‘And The Ship Sails On’ and ‘Ginger & Fred’ are my top picks from him. I understand the significance of ‘8 1/2’, ‘La Strada’, ‘La Dolce Vita’, ‘I Vitelloni’ – and they have wonderful elements to them. Watched them all multiple times. Brilliant stuff, no doubt. But I always found them to drag bit. For those interested, ‘I, Fellini’, a collection of interviews with the director by Charlotte Chandler is a great read and provides delightful insight into the maestro’s creative process!



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