Saturday, September 3, 2011

Movies in Italy: Lo sceicco bianco (Federico Fellini, 1952)

In Fellini's early critique of patriarchal Italy, a couple, Ivan and Wanda, travels to big-city Rome for their honeymoon, to meet Ivan's extended family, and to meet the pope.  It's Italian provincialism coming home to roost in its big glittering capital that, for all intents and purposes, operate along the same codes of conduct.  The proud Ivan wants everything to be perfect so that his family sees his picture-perfect wife, but Wanda has other plans.  When her husband takes a nap, Wanda escapes to the Cinecitta, where she meets her film idol "the White Sheik".   However, what was supposed to be a few minutes of fawning turned into hours of discovering the reality behind the film industry, while Ivan spends his time worrying about his family's reputation if they find out that his wife left him for a foreign royalty.  Even though the woman is shown as a victim not only of social repression but also the illusions provided as a form of "escape,"  the husband is ultimately seen as the one who shoulders much of society's demands, trying to coordinate the conflicting wants of his society, family, and wife.  Throughout the film, Ivan sports a discombobulated and helpless look, and for much of the film he is reduced to a sobbing boy incapable of maintaining his crumbling world.  When he finally reunites with his wife, he goes back to his domineering demeanor as he meets his family in the Vatican, in a symbolic return back to the stability of the family and church.

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