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With: Federico Fellini, Donald Sutherland, Terence Stamp, Roberto Benigni, Dante Ferretti
Written by: Damian Pettigrew, Olivier Gal
Directed by: Damian Pettigrew
MPAA Rating: R for some language and sexual content.
Language: Italian, French, English with English subtitles
Running Time: 105
Date: 03/15/2002

Fellini: I'm a Born Liar (2003)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Fellini's Roaming

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This year the Cannes Film Festival will pay tribute to Federico Fellini, in honor of the 10th anniversary of his death -- an odd, frankly morbid anniversary to be sure. The tribute will include new prints of Fellini classics, previously unseen footage and Fellini: I'm a Born Liar, a new documentary by Fellini biographer Damian Pettigrew.

Pettigrew has amassed rolls of interview footage of the great Italian director, as well as interviews with many of his co-workers and rare footage of the filmmaker on the set.

But, maybe as the title implies, it doesn't add up to much. Fellini blusters about his career almost as if he were preparing a homogenized press kit about himself. And Pettigrew, most likely an unabashed fan rather than an impartial journalist, does nothing to get under the skin of his hero.

Part of the problem is that the film focuses only on Fellini's later period, when he became a "great director" in the eyes of the world and responded by making giant, self-indulgent, grotesque crowd-pleasers. It completely forsakes his best work -- his early, more delicate films: Variety Lights, I Vitelloni, The White Sheik, La Strada, The Swindle and Nights of Cabiria.

One of the most annoying ways that Pettigrew fills out the film's running time is by traveling to original Fellini locations and re-creating certain shots. That may be a great pastime if you're actually there, but looking at the original and the re-created in the same film does little to stir enthusiasm.

The best stuff in Fellini: I'm a Born Liar is the on-the-set footage of Fellini at work, directing Donald Sutherland in Casanova (1976) as well as bits and pieces of other films (La Dolce Vita, Juliet of the Spirits). The actors interviewed here, including Sutherland and Terence Stamp (who appeared in the Toby Dammit episode of Spirits of the Dead), provide the best insight into the difficult director.

Stamp talks about one of Fellini's unfinished projects, and about how he deduced the reason behind Fellini's fear of finishing it. Stamp also reveals the secret behind his debauched performance in Toby Dammit with a great imitation of Fellini in directing mode.

But little tidbits like that one are few and far between in Fellini: I'm a Born Liar. Worst of all, Pettigrew includes generous clips of Fellini's great 8 1/2 (1963) which is, to this day, clearly a more compelling Fellini biography than anything Pettigrew could have come up with.
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