Summary: A fever dream that capitalises on the classic pairing of Federico Fellini and Marcello Mastroianni, 'City of Women' is a wild cocktail of styles held together with bold vision.
As the opening credits roll on, Federico Fellini's name is met with the giddy laughter of numerous unseen women. As star Marcello Mastroianni's name appears, one of the girls is heard saying "Marcello again?" referring to the director's frequent use of the actor. She then demands "music, maestro!" and the film's score kicks in.
This strong female presence in 'City of Women' dominates the rest of the film, continuing their laughter, criticism and demands towards their male counterparts relentlessly as Fellini's fever dream narrative contorts gender roles with daring originality.
While the film is obvious in its autobiographical clues given the auteur's obsession with women, introspection and overt performance, 'City of Women' does seem to owe a little to Leo Tolstoy's novella 'The Kreutzer Sonata' which also opens on a train as the protagonist/antagonist journeys through his fractured relations with the opposite sex, hurtling quickly towards a bold release. Fellini is more playful than Tolstoy, however.
With Mastroianni again in the lead, it's hard not to think of the director and star's pairings on their prior masterworks '8½' (1963) and 'La Dolce Vita' (1960), but don't expect an equal to either of those. 'City of Women' is a muddled trip through a dreamworld that builds a mountain but offers little footing for its audience.
The plot is very vague: Playboy businessman Snàporaz (Mastroianni) awakes on a train and instantly flirts with a passenger before following her off the train and into the woods, whereby a hotel appears. Upon entering, it's 99% women: angry feminists mainly. Snàporaz isn't put off, but more intrigued. Later on he'll take a road trip with young girls and crash a party held by a lothario celebrating his 10,000th conquest who cares more for his dogs and statue of his mother than he does for the numerous women he's seduced (a segment that wouldn't be out of place in 'Monty Python's The Meaning of Life'). Then it's on to a carnival with rides, skating and hot air balloons, as Snàporaz comes to terms with his marriage, impotency and powerlessness when it comes to women all before Fellini brings his crazed plot full circle.
'City of Women' is garish and beautiful all at once. In fact, it's many things all at once: poetic, vulgar, kinetic, slow, fast, sad, delirious, empty, full. It's a dream, but even Fellini's dreams could do with a more brutal editor in post-production.
As usual, the Masters of Cinema range has released another excellent Blu-ray. Here's the official extras list:
Glorious new HD restoration of the film, presented in 1080p on the Blu-ray
Newly translated optional subtitles
A Dream of Women, a 31-minute documentary on the making of the film
Notes on City of Women - an hour-long documentary about Fellini’s film
Dante Ferretti: A Builder of Dreams, a 22-minute documentary about the great production designer behind the film
A 12-minute video piece with filmmaker Tinto Brass discussing the picture
The original Italian and French theatrical trailers
Substantial booklet containing writing on the film, vintage excerpts, and rare archival imagery.
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