In his last film HOW STRANGE TO BE NAMED FEDERICO the great Italian director Ettore Scola recounts his decades-long friendship with Fellini, the undisputed master of cinema. But following the arc of that friendship, he also talks about himself and how at age fifteen, following in the footsteps of his elder (born in 1931, he was eleven years younger than Fellini) the future he saw for himself was as a caricaturist, at the time with the satirical pre-World War II publication Marc’Aurelio. In a way, that’s what he has done his whole life, with nuances and a refined touch.
Where Fellini gives us characters memorable even when grotesque or lost, Scola keeps his pencil sharpened for that particular trait, that idiosyncrasy, that specific funny or sad expression. Watch the wordless THE BALL, where characters, lonely, ridiculous, touching, move in and out of a public ball, and you’ll find yourself in one of the Belle Epoque albums by the caricaturists of the time. As the best draughtsmen, Scola’s precise rendering of Italian history, WE ALL LOVED EACH OTHER SO MUCH, of fascism, A SPECIAL DAY, of Italian society, THE TERRACE, or of obsession, PASSION OF LOVE, show both affection and a deep knowledge of what drives us. Scola also knows how to look at events from the small end of the looking glass, as he does masterfully in THE NIGHT OF VARENNES, more interested in Louis XVI’s traveling companions and retinue than in the French King himself who makes a desperate attempt to escape the guillotine. One never sees the monarch, simply the fluttering of people, in the carriage, at the inn, the comings and goings, a barber carrying wigs for the royal head, meals being prepared, all leading to the inescapably bad outcome.
A great film director has left us, one of that extraordinary generation of geniuses, a mere listing of their names saying it all: Fellini, of course, Scola, Antonioni, Pasolini, Bertolucci, the Taviani Brothers, Zefirelli, Ferreri, Rosi, Bolognini, Risi, all that after the previous generation with its own greats such as Rosselini or de Sica. My, haven’t we been lucky, and aren’t we still, with these tremendous memories which we should be duty-bound to revisit from time to time? Turning to Scola would be a good start. Watch THE BALL and if you haven’t seen it, be prepared for both amusement and pity at the perfectly drawn characters. Caricatures, sure, but spot on and not very different from us.
Our intrepid Russian friends have uploaded a full version of THE BALL on Youtube (The Ball)