Masters Of Cinema #53 - La Città Delle Donne - Blu-ray Review

With the vivid blue and pink hues of the effervescent poster, which doubles as both the box art and as the supremely bright blu-ray menu, you could be forgiven for thinking that Federico Fellini's La Città Delle Donne (City Of Women) is some kind of punked-out neon masterpiece, a hive of colour and alarming style.

The truth should be abundantly clear the minute we are introduced to black-suited, grey-haired Snàporaz (Marcello Mastroianni), travelling through beige countryside on a teal train of fustiness. La Città Delle Donne presents itself as deliberately emasculated initially so that it can reveal the 'release' of Snàporaz' tempestuous journey into sexual temptation and desire but one of its problems is that it never quite gets to the alternative, never quite attains the allure of that poster. Even when Snàporaz reaches Katzone's mansion of masculinity, we remain mired in a myriad of greys and unexciting production design.

At this late point though, as Snàporaz' wife appears in a red dress and Katzone deteriorates into more and more distasteful side tricks, it is suggested that perhaps Snàporaz is better off with the life he knew, rather than spending more time chasing the beautiful but always out of reach Donatella (Donatella Damiani), or the un-named woman he first meets on the train (Bernice Stegers). In essence this segment begins to sum up the ideas Fellini is interested in exploring within La Città Delle Donne; as men we must be able to look upon beautiful things but also respect that which we have - obtain a libido and then learn to control it.

Not that the director is ever interested in making things so clear cut that that is the only possible reading of a film that can be testing in how distant and out of reach it apparently actively seeks to remain. Aside from his lascivious lusting after Stegers, Mastroianni gets few lines once the narrative proper starts and he becomes trapped in a strange alternative world populated entirely by beautiful women, none of whom are interested in him. The characterless Snàporaz may fulfil his purpose of being an every-man (where every-man in this case means fallible, obsessed with sex and beholden to desire) but he also perseveres in being somewhat difficult to identify with, or even to enjoy following through what at times is a dream and what at times is a dark, chaotic farce.

The early segment, with Snàporaz wandering through what appears to be a feminist convention, has interesting things to say about the sexual politics of the film as a whole. On the one hand, it is easy to read this segment as Fellini laughing, or at least poking fun, at feminism. Chaotic and cathartic, Snàporaz wanders between lectures where everyone shouts, to twee dramatisations of sexual oppression in action. Eventually though, he arrives at what looks like a cinema, the darkened faces of an entirely female audience perhaps representing the crowd the director hopes will see his own film. At the conclusion, Stegers speaks and accuses us (and Snàporaz, and Fellini) of walking among females, 'feigning to understand'. Perhaps we have underestimated the amount of respect Fellini is willing to recognise and represent.

Towards the end, Fellini seems to have enough critique to throw at both sides. The ugly and bloated Katzone clearly represents the male libido run into excess, as he celebrates conquest number ten thousand, amid a party which sexually victimises at least one of this guests. This party is stopped though by the fascist-like police of the female overseers, who have not moments before terrorised Snàporaz in Lost Boy-esque displays of animal whooping and an unsettling silent chase down a deserted road, which literally forces him to seek refuge with Katzone. Let the male run wild and he will end up in excess, restrain him completely and you have something approaching state censorship where the end result is an exact reflection of that which you wished to avoid.

These details can be difficult to pick out though in a film that leaves pangs of dissatisfaction, even as it ends on a lavish sound stage set with Snàporaz recalling his history of near-sexual encounters and a balloon ride pricked before it can fully soar. This is an odd, visionary, exploration of male sexual desire and female resistance, but it is also frustratingly distant and, at times, anonymously composed.

Founded in 2004, The Masters of Cinema Series is an independent, carefully curated, UK-based Blu-ray and DVD label, now consisting of over 150 films. Films are presented in their original aspect ratio (OAR), in meticulous transfers created from recent restorations and / or the most pristine film elements available.

La Città Delle Donne is released in the UK on Monday 25th February 2013

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