Thursday, December 26, 2019

The White Sheik

Federico Fellini's The White Sheik, (1952) currently in revival at Film Forum, is based in the world of fotoromanzo, or photo novels. Michelangelo Antonioni, whose collaborated on the screen play, had dealt with the subject in his short Lies of Love (1949). In essence The White Sheik pays homage to the conventions of the genre, with its melodrama and arch romanticism (“Now that I’ve met you nothing else matters,” “I didn’t do anything wrong, I’m pure and innocent,” “I created you, I can destroy you” are examples of the melodramatic language). No sooner do Ivan Cavalli (Leopoldo Trieste) and his new wife Wanda (Brunella Bovo) arrive in Rome, then Wanda sneaks off to find Fernando Rivoli (Alberto Sordi), the actor who plays the character with whom she’s become enamored. Wafted away by her desires, she becomes totally separated from her increasingly desperate husband. The scenes of the newlyweds separation are reminiscent of another classic of cinematic melodrama, Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante (1934). Vigo's character was similarly swept off her feet by a performer. However, The White Sheik is also curiously reminsicent ofVittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (1949), as Ivan tries to retrieve a lost object (of love in this case) in the streets of Rome. One of the incidental delights of The White Sheik is the way it introduces the director’s vocabulary and palette. There’s the iconic Fellini procession, his own commedia orchestrated to the now familiar carnivalesque Nino Rota score. The beach scenes with the cast of circus characters foreshadow , and a streetwalker named Cabiria (Guilietta Masina), a la Nights of Cabiria (1957), even makes a cameo appearance.

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