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This film was directed by Federico Fellini, which is reason enough to watch a film in my book. But that wasn't why I watched it.

It's also set in Rome, which is reason enough too. But again, that wasn't why I watched it.

I watched it because it features the one and only screen appearance by a certain Giulio Moreschi: nephew and adopted son of my beloved Alessandro Moreschi.

Nicholas Clapton's biography reports that Giulio was present at Alessandro Moreschi's death in 1922, while a number of Italian web-sites like this one say that Giulio went on to become a singer in his own right, singing tenor in the choir at S. Maria Maggiore. According to p. 23 of Federico Fellini: His Life and Work (2007) by Tullio Kezich and Minna Proctor, he also gave Riccardo Fellini, Federico's brother, singing lessons in the 1940s: hence the connection with the director, and the role in this film.

His role is that of a hotel receptionist, which I assumed would be a minor, blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo when I first heard about it - especially given that he hadn't acted before. But actually he crops up quite a lot, appearing in several different scenes, and getting plenty of lines. Certainly enough to get some decent screen-caps, anyway. And it turns out that the resemblance to his uncle is extremely strong. First, let's have a couple of photos of Alessandro Moreschi from as close as possible to around the same age as Giulio is in the film - which I'm guessing is something like his late forties:

And now, Giulio Moreschi in Lo Sceicco Bianco:

Really, you could mistake the one for the other if it weren't for Giulio's faint stubble and receding hairline. Which is lovely, because there are so few surviving photos of Alessandro, and most of them aren't very good quality, so it's nice to get a bit more of a sense of what he might actually have looked like while moving around, and talking, and smiling like Giulio does in the film.

As for the actual film, the plot revolves around a small-town newly-wed couple, Ivan and Wanda, who have come to Rome for their honeymoon. He is conventional, fastidious, and obsessed with honour, status and prestige. He has come to Rome mainly to show off his new wife to his well-connected uncle, who has an important position at the Vatican and can get them in to meet the Pope. She is sensitive, idealistic and innocent, and has come to Rome hoping to meet the star of a photo-strip which she follows: the dashingly handsome White Sheikh.

At the first opportunity, while he thinks she is taking a bath, she sneaks out to the office from which the photo-strip is produced, where she ends up accidentally getting swept off to the day's location shooting on a beach outside Rome. There she meets her hero - but discovers that he is nothing like the dashing romantic figure she had imagined, and ends up disillusioned and stuck miles away from Rome with no way of getting back to the city. Meanwhile, the husband is desperately trying to hide the fact that his wife has gone missing from his uncle's family, and pretend that she is simply ill in bed.

It's a gentle social comedy with a healthy dose of farce, but some sombre notes as well. For Fellini, it is an early effort - his first time as sole director, in fact. But his later signature touches are definitely recognisable - the caricaturing of ordinary everyday eccentricity, the ribbing of the pompous and the bureaucratic, the interest in sexual hypocrisy, Catholicism and the process of cinematic production. For me, the funniest scene was one set in a police office, where the husband had come to report his wife missing, but was terrified of the whole story ending up in the papers and bringing his name into disgrace. As one policeman questioned him, and he gradually and reluctantly divulged the details of the whole torrid affair, another sat close by with a typewriter, thundering out every name and sensitive personal disclosure in stark black and white, as the husband writhed with discomfort.

Obviously there won't be that many people out there who will be as excited as me by Giulio Moreschi's role in the film. But I know there are a few Fellini fans on my flist - and I would definitely recommend this film to them.

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 27th, 2010 10:08 am (UTC)
It's a long time since I've seen it, but I was struck by how very Felliniesque it is.
Dec. 27th, 2010 11:07 am (UTC)
Glad to hear that you've seen it! Do you think you have seen all of his films now?
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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