IRS - INTERNATIONAL REVIEWS AND SCORES ®
Marcello Mastroianni on the set of 8 1/2 by Gideon Bachmann
90 ST LOUIS POST-DISPATCH • Harper Barnes
Based on 47 critic reviews
TOP TEN BEST FILMS OF 2003
TRUTH IS, DOCUMENTARY HAS LOTS TO SAY
25 July 2003
Near the end of 8 1/2, the semi-autobiographical masterpiece by the late Federico Fellini, a film director played by Marcello Mastroianni despairs at his failures as an artist and as a man. "I have nothing at all to say," the director mourns, "but I want to say it anyway." Scenes from 8 1/2 are woven throughout the dense texture of the stunning new documentary Fellini: I'm a Born Liar, and the little speech about having nothing to say is replayed near the end of the documentary as part of a summation.
The Mastroianni character's resemblances to Fellini range from the wide-brimmed, low-crowned black hat both wear to the ever-recurring and ever-futile hope that the latest film, and the latest infidelity with a beautiful actress (the two seem inseparable), will somehow save the director's soul - without destroying the marriage that is the bedrock of his life.
Did the prolific Italian director, one of the greatest filmmakers of the second half of the 20th century, really believe that he had nothing to say? The answer can be found, at least in part, by paying attention to something Fellini says in this intellectually daunting documentary and that is repeated in the title: "I'm a born liar."
Of course, Fellini had something to say, but the only way he knew how to say it was to tell a story, and no good story is ever really true. As writer Italo Calvino says in the film, a great narrative artist "tells that piece of truth hidden at the bottom of every lie."
This remarkable, mind-stirring documentary directed by Damian Pettigrew deals at length with such philosophical and psychological questions, but always in a Felliniesque way. That is to say, it tells a story, one that is visually rich and emotionally compelling and charged with one of the great director's favorite concepts - "expectation," the sense that something new and marvelous will come along every few minutes.
Pettigrew taped 10 hours of interviews with the Italian master toward the end of his career. As Fellini, who died in 1993, talks about his childhood and youth in the town of Rimini, on the Adriatic Sea, Pettigrew intersperses images from Fellini's other movies but he keeps returning to 8 1/2 from 1963, when Fellini was in his early 40s. He follows a similar pattern as he traces the rest of Fellini's life and work, always circling back to 8 1/2. (He seldom tells us what film we are watching.) And he also shows us what the settings look like today.
A number of friends and associates of Fellini are interviewed. They are not identified except in an on-screen list at the beginning of the movie, which some viewers may find confusing, but in general we can figure out who they are - a childhood friend, a longtime cinematographer and set director, other film artists.
Actors Donald Sutherland (Fellini's Casanova, 1976) and Terence Stamp (Toby Dammit episode in Histoires extraordinaires, 1968) are interviewed in English and tell very amusing stories about Fellini's directorial style, which could appear deceptively laissez-faire until actors did something he didn't like - a frequent occurrence - and he would turn into a tyrant.
Fellini: A Born Liar is a complex and sometimes obscure movie, and it demands a certain basic knowledge of Fellini's films - it's a work of art on its own, and a world away from the standard, straightforward 50-minute public-television documentary. But it's a must for anyone who appreciates the director's unique vision and loves his magical blend of romanticism, surrealism and never-ending search for the truth (and the faith) at the bottom of life's absurd lie.
90 THE NEW YORKER • David Denby
Illustration by Zohar Lozar based on images from I'm a Born Liar - All Rights Reserved
4 November 2003
In the superb documentary fantasia Fellini: I’m a Born Liar (playing at Film Forum through May 7th), Federico Fellini directs an erotic scene from Fellini Satyricon (1969), shaping the performances of three beautiful young actors with his hands, caressing the air as he croons instructions to first one and then another. His control of the scene is remarkable, but it makes you laugh, too, because in so much of the surrounding interview material the director describes himself as a kind of medium through which a given movie passes, a mere craftsman in the service of ineffable visions. His actual practice, as we see from the many scenes of him at work, is consciously to mold every breath of air in the movie, to dominate, terrify, seduce, and to dream and suffer for everyone. And some of Fellini’s collaborators confirm this mania. This Franco-Italian-Scottish co-production directed by Damian Pettigrew, is an extraordinarily controlled piece of film in its own right. The interviews, recorded in the year before the director’s death, are often eloquent – Fellini’s long sentences actually take you somewhere – and Pettigrew and his colleagues provide a surrounding texture of film excerpts and freshly shot footage that has the density of one of the Maestro’s own movies, without the excess.
Pettigrew uses a gliding camera to capture the actual look of Fellini’s hometown, the bedraggled seaport of Rimini, and other locations that the director recast as revery. The movie has periods of mystery and quiet and, throughout, an over-all atmosphere of uncanny poignance. The most delicious episode: Terence Stamp re-creating Fellini’s accent and manner as the director gives him profane instructions for a scene in the 1968 short film Toby Dammit. Stamp’s outrageous bit of mimicry may be his greatest achievement as an actor.
90 NEWSWEEK INTERNATIONAL • Michael J. Agovino
DIRECTING THE DIRECTOR: A DOCUMENTARIAN LOOKS AT FELLINI'S LIFE, ART AND LIES
23 June 2003
Damian Pettigrew first met Federico Fellini over a plate of pasta - spaghetti aglio e olio, al dente with a sprinkle of black pepper. The year was 1983, and Fellini was playing host - and chef - to his friend Italo Calvino in his office above the soundstage at Cinecittà Studios in Rome.
Pettigrew, a fledging Canadian filmmaker, had been making a documentary about Calvino. But the conversation kept drifting back to Fellini - so much so that Calvino finally said, "I've got a surprise for you, let's go," and led him straight to the director. "There he was, chopping the garlic," says Pettigrew, on the phone from Cannes, where Fellini was given a lavish retrospective. "I've never forgotten it." When Pettigrew politely inquired whether he could have access for a documentary, Fellini said that Damian - or "Damiano," as he called him - was too young, but to stay in touch. "And he was true to his word," says Pettigrew. In 1991 Fellini gave the filmmaker 10 hours over two years in what would be his last series of filmed interviews. Those interviews have resulted in the dreamy documentary Fellini: I'm a Born Liar, a surprise hit in the United States that's now making its way around Europe.
It's a singular piece of work in many ways. For one, it's about a director but very much by a director. In addition to hearing from Fellini and others, Pettigrew - who has made documentaries on Calvino, Alberto Moravia, Eugene Ionesco and Balthus - deftly manipulates a carefully wrought collage of film clips. And the Fellini before us is not what you'd expect in a documentary about someone who has an adjective named after him. There's no yelling or carrying on, hand gestures are minimal (for an Italian, at least), emotions are in check. Of course, Fellini was not well, suffering from arteriosclerosis. (His wife, the luminous Giulietta Masina, was dying of cancer at the time and is not in the film.) Fellini died the following year after suffering a massive heart attack - as the perfectly apocryphal story goes - while eating a chunk of Gorgonzola.
For the 35 minutes that Fellini is on camera, he's a quiet, pensive intellectual, at peace and seemingly prepared for death. That equanimity and sense of surprise wasn't easy to extract, says Pettigrew, who now lives in Paris. Before taking on Fellini, he watched nearly every interview ever done with him - and was disappointed by what he found. "There's nothing in them about spintaneity as the secret of life, nothing about the protective qualities of art," he says. "So that's what I decided to look at in the film. Let's give the public the Fellini that we don't know... You had to push him. 'Quit f---ing around. I'm really serious, Federico, for God's sake.' There were times he got p---ed off and I wondered if he'd continue."
The prodding and vetting, was worth it. Fellini ruminates about everything from religion and death to art and memory. He discusses the process of filmmaking: "The instant when I begin to work - when I become a filmmaker - someone takes over. A mysterious invader, an invader that I don't know... He directs everything for me. But it's someone else, not me, with whom I co-exist, someone I don't know, or know only by hearsay." And he offers this fabulist little anti-sound bite, from which Pettigrew takes his title: "I'm a born liar. For me the things that are most real are invented."
The Fellini close-ups are buttressed by experts and behind-the-scenes from his classics (8 1/2 with Marcello Mastroianni as Fellini's alter-ego memorably decked out in a toga; And the Ship Sails On, Amarcord - Pettigrew's favorites); his grandiose miscues (Fellini's Casanova,Satyricon,Roma) and visits to the present-day locations of those films, labeled only in the final credits. Also included are interviews with Donald ("Donaldino") Sutherland, who says Fellini tormented his actors and crew, that it was "an intricate part of his process"; Terence Stamp, whose hilariously vulgar story can't be printed here; Roberto Benigni, who says working with Fellini was the first time he was treated "like a real actor, or better, an actress!" - and Calvino, who was collaborating with Fellini on a project based on the writer's beloved Italian Folktales that never got off the ground. ("They would have made an absolutely gigantic film," Pettigrew says. "It would have been one of the treasures of the world.")
What comes through most clearly in Fellini: I'm a Born Liar is how he treated his art - and how it shaped him. It's not a bio, or a tell-all. That would be another film, and one not quite as satisfying. "Fellini was a huge narcissist, hugely generous in other ways, a contradictory man," says Pettigrew. "There are a lot of nasty things we can say about Fellini because he had a diva personality, but he really was a genius. He's someone who stayed true to his vision, and never compromised that vision. And I have great respect for that." How can you not?
90 THE BOSTON GLOBE • Wesley Morris (Pulitzer Prize for film criticism)
BORN LIAR FINDS THE TRUTH BEHIND FELLINI'S GENIUS
15 July 2003
Not long into Fellini: I'm a Born Liar, the often revelatory documentary containing the last interviews of Federico Fellini, we learn that when the now-deceased master happened upon one of his films, he couldn't recall who the devil made it. That sounds a bit like Michael Jordan happening upon his highlight reel and denying that the gent flying toward the hoop is him. With Fellini, it's somehow less disingenuous. Over a 43-year career, his movies were his dreams.
I'm a Born Liar is Fellini trying to get to the bottom of himself. And as anyone knows who's seen 8 1/2, Amarcord, Satyricon or Roma, that well is so deep as to be bottomless. For anyone who hasn't, there's still much to behold, and most of the Fellini catalog awaits, upon exiting the Brattle.
Over the course of his lifetime, Fellini dismissed psychoanalysis, choosing instead to recreate onscreen the trippy particulars of his slumbers: the phantasmagoric sex carnivals, the grotesquerie, the madonnas, the whores.
Director Damian Pettigrew, a Canadian-born Parisian, met Fellini 20 years ago in Rome, while interviewing the writer Italo Calvino, who brought him along for homemade spaghetti at Fellini's place near the legendary Cinecetta soundstages. In the years before Fellini's 1993 death, Pettigrew seduced the director into talking at length on film about his work.
Pettigrew surrounds his epicurean subject with haunted landscape shots and equally enlightening testimonials from erstwhile members of Fellini's casts and crews, folks who often found themselves perplexed and infuriated by the task of unloading the contents of Fellini's head onto celluloid. He was particularly rough on actors, whose inability to fully bring his vision to life drove him to exasperation.
For proof, there's Donald Sutherland characterizing his time on the set of 1976's woozy Casanova as "hell on earth." Or Terence Stamp, who offers a rousing impersonation of the director explaining how to be on acid for a role in the 1968 Euro auteurs-do-Poe collection Spirits of the Dead.
Even Fellini's mythic on-camera stand-in, Marcello Mastroianni, gave him doubts. Pettigrew has included some scintillating footage of the director wondering aloud why he ever hired the screen legend in the first place.
But I'm a Born Liar is only loosely concerned with behind-the-scenes gossip and is squarely focused on the nature of Fellini's insatiability. How he and his collaborators accomplished what they did remains forever out of reach. We simply have their fruits -- these surreally orgiastic dream-books; movies that, for ill and naught, functioned according to their own sensory and non-narrative logics. (Long time New Yorker critic Pauline Kael, who threw in her towel on Fellini in his later going, refused to sit through the second half of Casanova. She was bored, she boasted.)
Many a genius and many a hack had attempted what Fellini was up to, and this movie suggests why few succeeded to his extent: they just weren't as deeply committed to profligacy. Fritz Lang tried once with Metropolis and, with Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola did, too, and it nearly killed him. Orson Welles's numerous attempts put him out of business. And Terrence Malick's visionary obesity has produced a rather svelte body of work.
For Fellini, life was just a second-hand experience compared to the movies he wanted to make, the fantasy always more powerful than the real thing. Roberto Benigni, with the boom of a cannon, tells us of Fellini's dislike of Freud. And Pettigrew's movie functions nicely as a posthumous couch trip, with Fellini explaining the soulful puppetry of his art without pulling the curtain up far enough to let you catch him pulling the strings.
90 THE NEW YORK TIMES • A. O. Scott
NYT Critics' Pick
PUTTING FELLINI IN FRONT OF THE LENS:
A THRILLING MASTER CLASS IN CINEMA AESTHETICS
At one point in Fellini: I'm a Born Liar, Donald Sutherland recalls a deleted scene from Fellini's Casanova in which, as he puts it, ''Fellini makes love with a man.'' The actor does not correct his slip -- it is Casanova, the character played by Mr. Sutherland, not the director, who is amorously engaged -- which is almost as telling as his having committed it in the first place. In addition to being, by his own admission, a fabricator of untruths, Federico Fellini was a consummate narcissist. His movies, neo-realist or phantasmagorical, black-and-white or color, grand or merely grandiose, were at bottom all about himself.
This is not meant as criticism. In the long interview that takes up most of this fascinating new documentary, Fellini recounts a dream, in which Picasso serves him an omelet, and reflects on the affinity between them, which is less a matter of artistic style than of temperament. Speaking in 1993, a few months before his death, Fellini is not so much indulging in vanity as placing himself in appropriate company.
In a posthumous appreciation in The New Yorker, Clive James wrote that Fellini's ''individuality resided in his being able to see what was universal about himself,'' and that his ability to reflect his country and his personality through the bright lens of his art made him ''one of the great men of the modern world.''
There are those who would quarrel with that assessment, and who might even deny that Fellini should be counted among the great postwar Italian filmmakers. I am not one of them, and neither, from what I gather, is Damian Pettigrew, the director of Fellini: I'm a Born Liar, which opens today at Film Forum. Mr. Pettigrew's affection for Fellini and his films animates this documentary and limits its appeal. Aficionados will be enthralled by the master's ramblings and ruminations, thrilled at behind-the-scenes glimpses of his working methods and delighted to sample snippets of his movies, ones famous and obscure.
But for skeptics and novices, the experience will be less satisfying: familiarity with Fellini's life and his oeuvre is assumed. There is no biography beyond the restatement of some well-known facts: he grew up in Rimini, the Italian seaside resort, and was married for many years to Giulietta Masina, who starred in many of his pictures. The film clips and interview subjects seem to have been selected haphazardly, and are identified only at the end. Mr. Sutherland and Roberto Benigni may be easy to recognize, but even the most passionate devotees of Italian cinema may find it hard to identify Fellini's off-camera collaborators -- like the screenwriter Tullio Pinelli or the cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno -- by sight.
Their contributions are nonetheless fascinating, and Fellini: I'm a Born Liar is best understood not as a biography but as a kind of master class, a seminar in aesthetics conducted by Fellini, with ample and intelligent footnotes supplied by Mr. Pettigrew. Fellini, impish and eloquent, tends to explain his art either through abstractions or discussions of technique. The art itself, however, is peerlessly, magically sensual, and when we hear him talk about memory, dreams, sexuality and fear it is helpful to see how these ideas have taken shape in his movies.
In addition to scenes from Fellini's movies, Mr. Pettigrew revisits some of the locations where they were shot, as if to show the alchemical transformation that Fellini's camera visited on his native landscape. ''I'm a sort of magician,'' Fellini remarks -- and also, he suggests, a puppeteer, a scientist, a painter and a deity." After seeing this film, you may not be content to take him at his word. Luckily, though, his films supply the proof.
90 CINEASTE MAGAZINE • Peter Bondanella
There is no question that Pettigrew’s film on Fellini represents the most detailed and lengthy conversation with him ever recorded… few viewers of this fascinating documentary will remain untouched...
90 BOXOFFICE MAGAZINE • Wade Major
There should be a separate term for films that are nonfiction but clearly not intended to be objective documentaries. For without such a category, it's impossible to do proper justice to Fellini: I'm a Born Liar, probably the best such film ever made.
Producer/director Damian Pettigrew's loving tribute to the famous Italian filmmaker is unabashedly personal and subjective -- Pettigrew knew Fellini rather well, and uses his insights as a starting point from which to create a collage of impressions about the man, culled through interviews with Fellini's many friends and collaborators.
At 105 minutes, the film manages to be amazingly comprehensive as a portrait but even more useful as a roadmap to Fellini's soul. It's as uplifting, moving, entertaining and dazzling as a Fellini film itself, brimming with treasured clips and priceless anecdotes. Is this the real Fellini? It doesn't matter.
This is the Fellini that his friends and collaborators knew. The Fellini whose soul is bared in each and every film he made. The Fellini the world came to know through his work. And now, thanks to Pettigrew, they can get to know him through his friends.
90 FILM COMMENT • Michael Rowin
Haunting imagery and attention to physical presence… Fellini: I'm a Born Liar is a documentary featuring not just footage from the late director's final interview and revealing insights about his life and work from collaborators such as Donald Sutherland and Terence Stamp, but also evocative tracking shots through locales made famous in La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2, a simple tactic that renders these environments both reminiscent and more palpable…
90 THE NEW REPUBLIC • Stanley Kauffmann
The more one looks at and listens to Fellini the man, the more one realizes that most of the films are exponents of the man… One rare and unexpected treat is a short visit with Italo Calvino whose writing meant much to Fellini. But it is Fellini’s face that is peculiarly welcome, the face that – in a probably fantasizing but pertinent way – endorses his films…
90 TV GUIDE • Ken Fox
Built around a lengthy interview Federico Fellini gave several months before his death in 1993, Damian Pettigrew's elegant portrait of Italy's greatest director isn't so much a biographical overview as a sophisticated attempt to plumb the depths of il Maestro's cinematic psyche. For when it comes to Fellini, famous for turning his own life into fiction and vice versa, straightforward biography is a slippery thing. Early in Pettigrew's film, Fellini admits to being a "born liar," and says the childhood he invented for himself in such largely autobiographical films as I Vitteloni and Amarcord has become more real to him than his actual memories. Donald Sutherland, who starred in Fellini's Casanova (1976), tells Pettigrew that, like Orson Welles, Fellini created a great lie about himself that was in many ways true, while novelist Italo Calvino points out that a writer's "lies" are not unlike the fictions spun by analysands which can be as revealing as the truth.
Keeping all this in mind, Pettigrew intercuts Fellini's own ruminations on memory, childhood, his career and cinema with beautifully selected clips from the director's most personal films — including his masterpiece 8 1/2 and, interestingly, the nightmarish "Toby Dammit" episode from the 1968 anthology film Spirits of the Dead — and interviews with screenwriters, producers and, best of all, actors. "Toby Dammit" star Terence Stamp does a hilarious imitation of Fellini, whom, he says, would never deign to address an actor directly. A typically animated Roberto Begnini recalls how Fellini thought of him as his very own Kim Novak, and Sutherland coolly describes the director as "a martinet, a tartar" whose on-set modus operandi included screaming and humiliation. Pettigrew also includes fascinating clips of Fellini at work, berating an actor during the filming of Amarcord and manipulating a trio of lovers from Fellini Satyricon like a master puppeteer. General audiences will regret the absence of titles identifying various clips and interviewees, but Fellini fans will want to eat the whole thing up with a spoon.
90 E ONLINE
A wild introduction for the uninitiated and an affirmation for the Fellini fan. In other words, here's a fitting tribute to the born liar…
90 SAM PHILIP'S TOP 10 • Sam Philips
# 1 FELLINI : I'M A BORN LIAR - “Sam Phillips’s TOP 10 choices are a kind of inner soundtrack and cinema…”
90 REEL MOVIE CRITIC.COM • Lee Shoquist
A real cinematic treat. Not a biography in any traditional sense, this is a film about the process of making movies, told beautifully from a myriad of perspectives: director, actor, cinematographer, writer and more.
90 THE WEEK MAGAZINE
"THE WEEK’S FILM PICK: Fellini: I'm a Born Liar"
90 POPMATTERS • Jonathan Kiefer
Fellini: I’m a Born Liar
TALES OUT OF SCHOOL
It is easy to revere Federico Fellini, who died 10 years ago and will be accordingly lionized with a huge retrospective at Cannes this year. The event should also demonstrate that it is easy to watch his films, which flow like dreams, with their own internal logic.
The right way to make a documentary on Fellini, therefore, is to fantasize a little about the persona, rather than to seek the "truth" of the man. A well-proportioned mixture of "truth" and "fantasy" occurs in Fellini's films, so much so that it soon becomes obvious that a documentary can't contain him, or entirely capture him, considering Fellini's own resistance to "truths" about himself. Damian Pettigrew was wise not to try; with Fellini: I'm a Born Liar, he delivers an attentive appreciation of the old ringmaster, whom he's perfectly willing to remain opaque.
Pettigrew dutifully collects comments from people who knew and worked with the director, and returns to a few of his films' most iconic locations for a then-and-now comparison -- rather a clever technique, as it passes off a romantic pilgrimage in the guise of clinical examination. As accent, Pettigrew adds sensual close-ups of film stock being manipulated, an exhibition of stunning and iconic images from Fellini's finished works, and just the appropriate aural flourishes: a gust of wind and a few bars of inimitable music by Nino Rota, Fellini's longtime composer.
But Pettigrew's approach seems to proceed from the theory that it would have been a shame not to build something from the long interview Fellini granted him shortly before the maestro died. Pettigrew places this interview at the core of his documentary, with the understanding that any Fellini interview is at best a web of yarns. The director's digressions about his background and techniques, while vivid and loquacious, are notoriously unreliable.
Fellini: I'm a Born Liar is lyrical and visceral; it serves the lore of Fellini, not the scholarly research. It glimpses his soul and style. Fellini was as famous for his leg pulling as he was for his filmmaking, and this tendency gave life and joy to his best work, which, as he describes it, is "a quest for the most authentic part of oneself." Part of what made the director a genius and a bane to his usually jealous dissenters was his rare gift for making movies that were both interesting and entirely about himself. Many read like stylishly narrated memories, deeply lived in, embellished at will, cherished.
Regardless of his cinematic skill, this capacity for relentless self-exploration alone qualifies Fellini for inclusion in the canon of great modern artists. So it's no surprise when, with a strangely plausible hybrid of humility and vanity, he recounts the story of a dream in which Picasso made him an omelet. What a great image -- the abstract artwork of food preparation, the nourishment, and service, taken from the master. Portent and iconic and amusingly weird, it lodges itself in your imagination so firmly that the fact of having been dreamed doesn't make it any less authentic.
Pettigrew assumes an audience of people who would similarly dream of brunching with Fellini. On our behalf, he assumes more than familiarity with the films. Clips are neither identified nor, in several cases, given any context. The result, almost certainly not intended as a survey or a deconstruction, is a kind of internal dialogue of a movie, which poses a series of affectionately rhetorical questions for those already in the know. Like: "Remember the dreamed opening of 8 1/2 -- the cutting, the selection of shots, the precise balance of clarity and mystery -- could it be more perfect?"
That film, about the impotent agony a movie director endures while conceiving and birthing his film, covers some of the same ground as Pettigrew's project, and its inclusion here only reinforces the vital relationship between memory and creativity. "You come into this life with the unique goal of narrating it to others," Fellini intones. For many that would seem like an audacious claim, but Fellini put it into recurrent practice.
For all the headiness, of course, it helps to include some of the humdrum. So what of Fellini's specific work habits? Famously, the maestro was often a cranky taskmaster with actors. "Puppets are happy to be puppets if the puppeteer is good," he says, not at all defensively. For perspective on this, Pettigrew supplies liberal doses of interviews with Donald Sutherland and Terence Stamp; Sutherland, who played the title role in Fellini's Casanova, displays by turns admiration for and hostility toward the director's methods. And he delivers his comments with perfect, actorly diction. It's such an eerily exaggerated tone -- the extemporaneous thoughts so carefully enunciated -- that it evokes listening to the dubbed dialogue in Fellini's films: a controlled, unreal reality, a "truth" apart from facts.
When he gets rolling, Stamp is a marvelous raconteur in his own right -- particularly when recalling the English stage actor's first foray into Fellini's rather ribald world. It's hard to know how much Stamp exaggerates, but it's easy to see that exaggeration is the real fun of his story, and that seems like the central lesson learned from the director himself.
Given this emergent portrait, it doesn't seem so hard to believe that Fellini was, as he says, "unable to cope with what they call a normal existence," or that he knew he'd never be a doctor or a cardinal. To a certain breed of young artist, that must seem as reassuring as having Picasso make you an omelet.
90 LITTLE GOLDEN GUY.COM • Brian Barney
Commentary from actors who worked with the late director, scenes from his films and an interview with Fellini himself conducted by the documentary's director enhance this inspiring narrative…
90 NITRATE ONLINE • Gregory Avery
Avoiding a didactic approach, Pettigrew layers in the material… and the results are dazzling… Perhaps best enjoyed as a fabulous tale told by an expert and highly adept con man…
90 PHILADELPHIA WEEKLY
An actual prior-to-death interview with the uber-passionate filmmaker may be the height of Damian Pettigrew's doc, though word has it that the real appeal is Terence Stamp (who worked with him on the phantasmagoric Toby Dammit segment of the Poe trilogy film Spirits of the Dead /Histoires extraordinaires) and his cracking good impersonation of the man…
90 DVD VERDICT • Mark Van Hook
Essential viewing for all Fellini fans, as well as those wanting to gain further knowledge of the Maestro's strange and fascinating career…
90 THE SEATTLE TIMES • Moira MacDonald
A worthy and often exquisite tribute to memory and art, to truth and contradiction… This a loving tribute, but not a fawning one – it presents an often-contradictory, maddening artist… Fellini: I'm a Born Liar is an impressionistic work, documenting a master’s philosophy in strokes of light and dark. At the end, a set of empty camera tracks extends toward the sea and that 8 1/2 beach, into the endless horizon; it’s a beautiful, silent moment, both false and true at once…
90 SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN • David Fear
Documentaries on filmmakers tend to stick to a well-trod path: unearth the cracked, yellowing photos or grainy home-movie footage of the director as child, insert scholarly interviews of admirers waxing nostalgic, heap on the gravitas voice-overs and paint-by-numbers narration. What's most interesting about Canadian Damian Pettigrew's documentary on the late, great maestro Federico Fellini is how it manages to stick to the vérité-tribute template and simultaneously succeed in flipping the old workhouse script.
The subject's formative years are only obliquely referenced as a camera glides through Fellini's hometown of Rimini, Italy, no omniscient tenor-voiced tour guide explains his career peaks and valleys, and even as plentiful talking-head footage pops up between the film clips, the lack of identification intertitles during interviews provides little academic reference (most viewers will recognize Donald Sutherland and Terence Stamp, who does a wicked impersonation of Fellini directing him with "you've been up all night drinking whiskey, doing cocaine, and fucking"; the interview subjects come off as anonymous faces minus their famous names). Yet the film's diary-like montage of the master at work, first-person testaments to his legendary narcissism that are both deifying and damning, and the Fellini-on-Fellini confessional Pettigrew filmed three months before the filmmaker's death couldn't toe the tributary line more.
Assuming you already know the basics of the man and the myth, FELLINI: I'M A BORN LIAR's stream-of-conscious journey is full of personal delights that will have fans dripping puddles of drool onto the theater floor - what Fellini-phile wouldn't want to see him barking orders at wife-actress-cherub Giulietta Masina or his on-screen alter-ego, Marcello Mastroianni? I'd be a liar if I said this was a great introduction to one of the most significant seventh art-ists of the last 50 years. For devotees who need no primer, however, this intimate peek behind the curtain is priceless.
90 FILMJERK.COM • Edward Havens
FAVORITE DOCUMENTARIES OF 2003 - FELLINI: I'M A BORN LIAR
90 EL NUEVO HERALD • Charles Cotayo
Those who know Fellini's films will discover a fascinating introduction to his mind, heart, and spirit... El italiano Federico Fellini (1920-1993) fue posiblemente el director más atrevido y original de su generación. Por supuesto que han existido otros que también han contribuido al desarrollo del lenguaje cinematográfico, pero pocos como Fellini han dejado huellas tan definidas en las arenas del mar fílmico. El director italiano siempre sintió pasión por el mar. Varios de sus filmes, como La Dolce Vita (1960), por nombrar una, terminan junto al mar, como si el agua y el horizonte fueran un puente hacia lo eterno. En este documental descubrimos mucho de lo que hizo a Fellini vibrar como ser humano y como creador. El documental consiste de una serie de entrevistas con Fellini, colaboradores como el fotógrafo Giuseppe Rotunno (Amarcord, 1973), el actor canadiense Donald Sutherland (Fellini's Casanova, 1976) y admiradores como el autor italocubano Italo Calvino. La cinta está complementada con escenas de algunas películas de Fellini --quien se compara a un titiritero--, especialmente de su obra maestra, la semiautobiográfica 8 1⁄2 (1963), la cual muchos críticos consideran una de las 10 mejores películas de todos los tiempos. Una secuencia muestra a Fellini dirigiendo una escena sutilmente erótica de Satyricon (1969), en la que un ménage trois de actores hace precisamente lo que él les indica, movimiento por movimiento. Después vemos el producto final: un segmento impecablemente fluido sin aparentes cortes, con la elegancia y la gracia de un ballet. Quienes desconocen la filmografía de Fellini encontrarán aquí una fascinante introducción a su mente, su corazón y su espíritu. Lo que el documental reafirma es que este genio nació para lo que fue: un verdadero maestro del séptimo arte que aún hoy día sigue influyendo a nuevas generaciones de cineastas.
88 TIME OUT NEW YORK • Andrew Lewis Conn
A movie-length interview conducted with the director before his death in 1993, punctuated by film clips and remarks from artistic colleagues, FELLINI: I’M A BORN LIAR is a lovingly made tribute… Chockabloc with luminous clips, especially from the overpoweringly beautiful 8 1/2, one of the greatest films ever made…
88 DALLAS OBSERVER • Gregory Weinkauf
One comes away from FELLINI: A BORN LIAR acutely aware of a man who spent his life grappling with the very concept of women, whom he deemed collectively to be "the unknown planet…"
88 THE SEATTLE WEEKLY • Tim Appello
'An artist has a childish need to offend,' says Fellini. 'I need an enemy!' We see him oppressing Donald Sutherland (as Casanova), manipulating actors like a puppeteer – physically pawing them, making them ape his words and gestures… When Terence Stamp asked why Fellini added a little curlicue to his right eyebrow in Toby Dammit, Fellini replied, 'Eet’s like a question mark. You are always asking a question.' It also looks like an exaggeration of the unruly curlicue that erupts from Fellini’s own inquisitive right eyebrow…"
80 CHICAGO TRIBUNE • Michael Wilmington
A MUST FOR FELLINI LOVERS.... Seeing Fellini again in the flesh and in his films is, as always, a pleasure and a teasing mystery... FELLINI: I'M A BORN LIAR is best watched in conjunction with the films themselves.
80 NEWSDAY • John Anderson
It’s fascinating to hear Fellini talk about himself and his work… And the previously unseen footage Pettigrew employs of Fellini’s most magnetic star, Marcello Mastroianni, is close to exhilarating!
80 VARIETY • Leslie Felperin
For aficionados, it’s hard to beat Fellini: I'm a Born Liar…
80 LOS ANGELES TIMES • Mark Olsen
Taken together, Pettigrew’s documentary and the retrospective screenings provide an excellent opportunity to discover with fresh eyes what it was that vaulted the films of Federico Fellini, as well as their creator, to international acclaim…
80 FILM JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL • Kevin Lally
The movie features ample footage of Fellini offering his philosophical and playful reflections on life, death, art, inspiration, spirituality, actors and women, and that’s reason enough to make it essential viewing for the serious cineaste…
80 LOS ANGELES TIMES • Kenneth Turan
There's a lot to like about FELLINI: I’M A BORN LIAR, starting with that comprehensive interview, which reveals Fellini to be an intoxicating conversationalist, articulate, expansive and capable of giving radically different takes on the same subject… Equally intriguing is vintage behind-the-scenes footage showing Fellini in the act of directing… The film has an intensity and ambition that the maestro would have admired...
80 THE WASHINGTON DIPLOMAT • Ky N. Nguyen
Pettigrew’s revealing documentary FELLINI: I’M A BORN LIAR uses candid interviews with Federico Fellini and his co-workers to portray the legendary Italian director’s life and actions behind the camera…
80 WASHINGTON POST • Desson Howe
In these conversations, Fellini’s obviously the star and saint and genius of his own commentary. But it’s fascinating to listen to him… Pettigrew shows Fellini at work and those moments are priceless…
80 DALLAS MORNING NEWS • Chris Vognar
It’s not a just-the-facts doc, but Fellini was no just-the-facts director… Fellini came close to painting his thoughts directly onto the screen. FELLINI: I’M A BORN LIAR honors this approach by putting lyricism ahead of clarity. You get the feeling that the maestro would appreciate the results…
80 CONTRA COSTA TIMES • Mary F. Pols
By no means a hatchet job on the Italian director, rather an enlightening portrait of a difficult artist and his methods… Offers us a close-up look at a director who was foremost a visual master, capable of creating the kind of unsettling images that haunt you forever… FELLINI: I'M A BORN LIAR opens doors for us…
80 CHICAGO READER • J. R. Jones
A fascinating inquiry into memory and art, mixing clips from Fellini's films with contemporary shots of the same locales in and around Rome…
80 MINNEAPOLIS CITY PAGES • Joshua Rothkopf
For Fellini fans, the film is pure gold… glimpses of the director at work, toiling toward something specific in mind, are argument enough against recent critical reevaluations built on the idea that our visionaries should be more articulate…
80 THE HERALD • Robert Horton
A summation of Fellini's spirit. As such, it will be terrific for fans, perhaps less so for the uninitiated…
80 THE SEATTLE STRANGER • Sean Nelson
Seattle's cinephiliac denizens will be able to curl up and die after this revealing visit with the late great master of Italian film. FELLINI: I'M A BORN LIAR is as much performance piece and vanity trip as documentary…
80 TUSCON WEEKLY • James DiGiovanna
... Any fan of Fellini, or of cinema as personal art, should enjoy this rare chance at seeing a master of the form present himself as an object for his own discipline…
80 ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY • Owen Gleiberman
... It's a messy, entertaining documentary rooted in -- though not limited to -- the iconically indulgent years of Fellini's later career...
75 CHICAGO SUN-TIMES • Roger Ebert
... As a source of information about his life and work, this interview is almost worthless, but as an insight into his style, it is priceless...
60 THE ONION (A.V. CLUB) • Keith Phipps
... Turns a fond look back at the great Federico Fellini into an occasion for the kind of talky tedium Fellini's own movies would never have allowed...
60 SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE • Mick LaSalle
... Occasionally brilliant, profiting from Fellini's distinct and unmistakable way of looking and seeing. But it goes in circles and wears out its welcome, except for the most hard-core enthusiasts.