Despite lacking footage from any of the late Italian maestro's movies, "Federico Fellini -- Through the Eyes of Others" more than adequately does what it says on the can. Comprising interviews with big-name stars, collaborators and even the guy who used to serve Fellini dinner in his favorite Roman restaurant, intimate docu builds up a thoughtful collage of the helmer's personal life and working habits. Film would make a serviceable addition to any fest or upscale TV station's Fellini retrospective, especially if programmed alongside other docus on the helmer, and is bound to end up as an extra on a DVD.

Despite lacking footage from any of the late Italian maestro’s movies, “Federico Fellini — Through the Eyes of Others” more than adequately does what it says on the can. Comprising interviews with big-name stars, collaborators and even the guy who used to serve Fellini dinner in his favorite Roman restaurant, intimate docu builds up a thoughtful collage of the helmer’s personal life and working habits. Film would make a serviceable addition to any fest or upscale TV station’s Fellini retrospective, especially if programmed alongside other docus on the helmer, and is bound to end up as an extra on a DVD.

“He was the greatest liar I ever met, because he wanted life to be more interesting,” snips Gore Vidal in the film’s opening five minutes. Backhanded compliment is one of the few negative remarks in this largely hagiographic study of one of Italy’s greatest directors. Experienced documaker Eckhart Schmidt — who’s helmed several films on Hollywood life — makes the most of what he’s got with a broad selection of interviewees.

Talking heads include actress Anita Ekberg, who again tells the story of how she nearly froze to death during the fountain scene in “La Dolce Vita” (1960); a still-svelte Anouk Aimee, fondly recalling Fellini’s hypnotic directing technique; Fellini’s longtime screenwriting partner, Tullio Pinelli, explaining their mutable relationship; biographer Tullio Kezich; regular lenser Giuseppe Rotunno; an insightful Dino De Laurentiis, producer of “La Strada” (1954) and “Nights of Cabiria” (1957); and dirt-dishing Sandra Milo, actress and onetime g.f. (she played the mistress in “8 1/2″), who lists some of the places she and Fellini had sex. Other thesps, a script girl and a tearful costumer fill out the cast.

For Fellini aficionados, Damian Pettigrew’s 2001 docu on the scarf-wrapped auteur, “Fellini: I’m a Born Liar,” takes some beating, including its extensive interview with the man himself, shot just before he died in 1993, aged 73. Schmidt and Pettigrew’s films overlap on personal info from Fellini’s inner circle, voyage to similar key locations and both lack interview material with Fellini’s onscreen avatar, Marcello Mastroianni.

Schmidt’s pic visits all the major points of the cross, with second-rung films like “I Vitelloni,” “Ginger and Fred” and Fellini’s last, “La Voce Della Luna,” covered, as well as the classic titles. Despite its anecdotal tone, film strikes a nice balance in representing both the man (manipulative, charming) and the artist (innovative, visionary).

On the bigscreen, film looks no better or worse than the average digi-Beta projection. Lensing — both rostrum and regular — is workmanlike and unobtrusive throughout. One fault of Pettigrew’s docu was the lack of captions identifying speakers; Schmidt’s goes to the other extreme, offering not only the names of each talking head every time he or she appears on screen but also the films the participant worked on. Such over-fussiness often crowds out the English subtitles, and creates the illusion that info is being omitted.

Federico Fellini -- Through the Eyes of Others

Germany

Production

A Raphaela Film/Bayerischer Rundfunk production, with participation of Bavarian Film & TV Fund. (International Sales: Telepool, Munich.) Produced, directed by Eckhart Schmidt.

Crew

Camera (color, digi-Beta), Cristiano Samassa; editor, Raoul Sternberg. Reviewed at Karlovy Vary Film Festival (competing), July 6, 2003. Running time: 89 MIN.

With

With: Anouk Aimee, Dino De Laurentiis, Anita Ekberg, Tullio Kezich, Sandra Milo, Tullio Pinelli, Giuseppe Rotunno, Gore Vidal.
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