Fellini Week, Day 4: Roma

No, kids, this isn't your precious Netflix movie.  Today we're looking at the original, 1972 Roma.  Although, I can't front; 2018's Roma is pretty great.  And no, there's no connection between the two films besides having the title in common.  That one's about a district in Mexico named Roma, and this one's about Rome, the capitol of Italy.  And I mean it's really about the city of Rome.  2018's Roma is set in Roma, and follows a family in 1970's Roma, taking every opportunity to photograph it beautifully yet honestly and bring out all its charming eccentricities.  In 1972's Roma, there are no leads except for the city.  Yeah, there are people, but they come and go and almost never persist from one scene to another.  It's a cheesy cliche (see: We Came Together) to say that the location is another character in the film, but in this case, not only is that true, but it's the sole protagonist. 
You guys might be surprised, as it seems to get maligned almost as often as it's praised, but this is actually my favorite Fellini film.  That's right, the infamous "travelogue."  I love it.  A lot of it seems to just boil down to whether you're bothered by the lack of a conventional story.  I find it refreshing, though of course it's the substance rather than the novelty of the structure that really does it for me.  This film is a bit known for having elements of his other work in it, and that's surely true... the little girl chasing a ball surrounded by the machinations of filmmaking feels too specific not to be a winking little nod to Spirits Of the Dead.  More generally, the journey through the subways and ruins to resurrect Rome's history feels like it's tapping the same veins as Satyricon (as well as the far more obscure Fellini: A Director's Notebook), and the subversiveness of innocent childhood thriving against fascist occupation feels like it's ripped right out of the screenplay for Amarcord.  But I suspect it's less to do with referencing his earlier work and more just the richness of the themes he's exploring spilling across.  Of course, there's a lot of Fellini in this film - he even appears as himself - but it doesn't feel navel-gazing or meta. just an earnest expression of his love.  And by the way, be sure to listen to Roma's audio commentary for some interesting counterpoints to the autobiographical theories commonly applied to this film.  This is less introspection as it is a celebration of everyone around him, past and present.
Roma's history on disc is essentially the same story as Satyricon.  MGM first issued it on DVD in 2001.  Again, it was widescreen but barebones, however this time the situation was worse, because it was non-anamorphic.  And again, over the next couple years, MGM issued the same disc in pretty much every other region around the world (yes, consistently non-anamorphic), and that's been it for Roma throughout the SD age.  But now that we're in the HD era, yup, Criterion put out a 2016 special edition blu-ray.
2001 MGM DVD top; 2016 Criterion BD bottom.
Besides, of course, bringing the film into anamorphic resolution, Criterion's blu changes the aspect ratio from MGM's 1.66:1 to 1.85:1.  Normally, that would entail matting the film a little tighter, cropping a bit more off the top and bottom to get the traditional framing.  But here, Criterion finds a bunch of additional picture along the sides and even a little more at the bottom.  Criterion's booklet explains that their transfer was "created from a 2010 restoration performed in 2k resolution at L'Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna, Italy... from the 35mm original camera negative."  But whether the Italians or Americans are responsible for it, we've got another "Criterion green" push in the color timing (surely, we don't believe Federico is wearing a green shirt in the first set of shots?).  It's most obvious in the daylight scenes, but it's even apparent in the darker scenes... which is most of the picture.  I was actually a bit surprised by how dark the film turned out to be in HD.  But overall, it looks rather good.

Both discs give us the original Italian mono track with optional English subs.  The DVD also has Spanish and French subs, while the BD upgrades the audio to lossless LPCM and freshly translates their subs.
The DVD just has the trailer.  The BD has the trailer, too, but also a whole lot more.  It starts out with a very engaging and informative audio commentary by scholar Frank Burke.  Dedicated fans of Roma have probably heard of, if not seen, alternate cuts of Roma, and happily, Criterion has gathered up almost twenty minutes worth of deleted scenes, including a sequence with Marcello Mastroianni.  Criterion has also recorded new, on-camera interviews with Fellini's friend Valerio Magrelli and filmmaker and fan Paolo Sorrentino (Il Divo, This Must Be the Place).  Finally, we see "The Felliniana Archive," a collection of memorabilia and behind-the-scenes photos.  Criterion also includes a booklet with notes by David Forgacs, which folds out into a poster.
I have to admit, I wouldn't mind seeing someone take another pass at the color-timing of this one, but otherwise the detail and image looks pretty great, especially for a transfer made in 2010.  The extras are great, too, although they're not as flush as some of their other Fellinis.  But the deleted scenes are downright essential.  There is a UK BD, too, from Eureka, but it seems to have essentially the same transfer (green 'n' all), and fewer extras.  They did turn up an English dub, but I'm sold on this Criterion, at least until some fancy 4k UHD comes out in another decade.

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