With his customary charm, generosity, modesty and irony, Italy’s best-loved star looks back over his life and career in “Marcello Mastroianni: I Remember, Yes I Remember.” Directed by the late actor’s companion of the past 22 years, Anna Maria Tato, and shot on the Portuguese set of his swan-song film, Manoel de Oliveira’s “Journey to the Beginning of the World,” this entertaining self-portrait overcomes its formlessness and unimaginative direction by sheer virtue of its charismatic subject. Extensive fest and TV exposure appear certain, along with limited theatrical play in some territories.
Distilled from six hours of footage, the feature-length version premiering at Cannes will segue to theatrical release in Italy and France. A more comprehensive, four-hour TV version is being prepared to bow at Venice in the fall.
Mastroianni first appears in silhouette, recalling a series of random memories. These include childhood snippets like nursery rhymes, Sunday-paper comic strips and seeing “Ben-Hur” on his first trip to the movies; personal recollections such as the birth of his daughter Chiara, the first time he saw mountains and his first night of love; movie memories like Charlie Chaplin’s clowning; and celebrity encounters such as Greta Garbo admiring his Italian shoes or the hush that fell over Chez Maxim as Gary Cooper entered in a white tux.
While it establishes the breadth of Mastroianni’s memories, the prologue is overextended and seems scripted. Docu really engages only when the actor comes fully into view, directly using his skills as a raconteur.
After starting with his formative decade of stage work under director Luchino Visconti, he moves on to film, recalling his first job as an 11-year-old extra at Cinecitta and touching on his great love and admiration for Vittorio De Sica and his affection for the films he made with Marco Ferreri. He returns repeatedly to the most important association of his career, with Federico Fellini — a friendship he describes as one based on mutual distrust.
Though his role in Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” propelled him to international stardom and launched his Latin-lover image, Mastroianni grumbles about its inappropriateness given his retiring, innately lazy nature. The label persisted despite his efforts to diversify, playing roles in which he was impotent, gay and even pregnant.
Especially enjoyable are Mastroianni’s views on acting: his bewildered disapproval of the Method approach, and his preference for treating acting as a game requiring brains and sangfroid. He admits to choosing movies often according to their location, like a privileged tourist.
Docu rarely illuminates the actor’s personal life. Whether this was the choice of Tato or of Mastroianni (who reportedly had an equal hand in shaping the project) is unclear. He recalls his mother and father never missing his films despite being, respectively, deaf and blind, and disturbing other moviegoers with their running commentary. Also fondly remembered is his brother Ruggero, who died only a few months before him; the pair are seen in amusing clips from Luigi Magni’s “Scipione detto anche l’Africano” alongside Vittorio Gassman.
The women in Mastroianni’s life and films are conspicuously absent, including Faye Dunaway, Catherine Deneuve and even Flora Mastroianni, to whom he remained married up to his death. Sophia Loren is represented with just a still photo, despite the many romantic comedies they made together that were as central to Mastroianni’s career as his work with Fellini.
Structurally, there’s nothing here to worry Errol Morris. While Tato has accessed some fine archival material — notably Mastroianni’s screen test for Fellini’s “Viaggio di Mastorna,” which was never made, a tango scene from the stage musical “Ciao Rudy,” and a hilarious riff on Mastroianni as media object from the 1967 NBC special on Fellini, “A Director’s Notebook” — this docu is purely an assembly-line job, with neither rhythm nor overall scheme. The constant jumping and backtracking among subjects, rather than mirroring the nonlinear aspect of memory, appears haphazard.
Clips are used far too sparingly, with the director-editor preferring to stick with Mastroianni in various seaside and mountain locations, cleanly shot by Giuseppe Rotunno.