Probably because it features few of his recognizable standard performers nor the requisite Nino Rota music score, Fellini's E la Nave Va
(And the Ship Sails On
) has never enjoyed a reputation equal to most of his earlier films. However, on both technical and artist levels, the film is easily as good some of the more famous films from his "excessive" period (Satyricon
, City of Women
, etc.), and foreign film addicts would do well to discover this unheralded little gem.
In the summer of 1914, a luxury liner (filmed completely on the soundstages of Cinecitta!) departs from the Italian coast. The passengers on board have all congregated with one mission in mind: to pay tribute and scatter the ashes of Tetua, a revered opera diva. The events are presented for the audience through the eyes of Orlando (David Lynch favorite Freddie Jones), a gregarious reporter who spends most of his time addressing the camera. This delirious ship of exotic fools revels in lavish banquets, self indulgent soirees, and other idle dalliances of the rich. Their chic self absorption begins to crack when the captain rescues a band of Serbian refugees who have been set adrift to escape the imminent terror of World War I. As the passengers soon realize, even in the middle of the ocean, you cannot escape reality.
One of Fellini's most visually sumptuous efforts, And the Ship Sails On
basks in its own glorious artifice. Characters often make ironic remarks while staring at the ultra-saturated backdrops ("Look at that sunset -- it almost appears to be painted on!") and change costumes more often than their expressions. Like most Fellini films, this film was shot without sound and later dubbed in due to the motley international players (Jones' dubbing is especially distracting), but the Italian version is as authentic as any. The opening sequence ranks as one of the most audacious of Fellini's many cinematic feats; the film begins as a silent, sepia-toned depiction of the ship's preparations before departure, with sound effects gradually layered on as the passengers begin to arrive. One by one the actors begin to sing, with Plenizio's operatic works continuing to appear throughout the film as musical accompaniment. Upon the arrival of the ashes, the film bursts into color -- and the voyage begins. Without giving anything away, the finale is perhaps even more audacious and reminiscent of 8 1/2
in its puckish cinematic trickery.
Criterion's edition of And the Ship Sails On
clocks in at just over 127 minutes, though versions running as long as 134 minutes have been reported in Europe. Whether this discrepancy is due to Fellini's last minute trims (not an uncommon occurrence) or the variances of converting European video for the U.S. is uncertain, but the film doesn't appear to be missing anything significant. The image quality is very good, especially considering the condition of most pre-1990 Italian films, though not as dazzling and clear as Nights of Cabiria
. The easily legible English subtitles are optional and usually very accurate. No extras aside from a fold out booklet with excerpts from the book, I, Fellini
. Amazingly, this disc is not time encoded, a trend Criterion will hopefully discontinue in the future.