Anyone who has interviewed actors knows that even the greatest can say little to illuminate their largely intuitive art. Mastroianni, who died in 1996, was no exception. The son of a carpenter, he found his calling while still an adolescent, pestering De Sica for work as an extra on the back lots of Cinecittà, and for the next 60 years, he was never far from the camera. In this three-hour-and-20-minute documentary, made in the last year of his life by his longtime companion, Mastroianni looks back over his 170 films, a small history of Italian cinema; his discretion and straightforward approach to his craft, though laudable, make for a very long movie.
Postwar audiences at home first knew him as everybody's favorite proletarian, before a kiss with Anita Ekberg in Fellini's La Dolce Vita transformed him into an international icon of the Latin lover. The mantle stuck, though the actor claimed to loathe it. (A hilarious clip from a 1960s profile of Marcello at his swinging Roman villa, trying on fur coats while surrounded by bathing beauties, might suggest otherwise.)
Still, he did much to shed the title, playing failures, cuckolds, the poor, the impotent; in Maria Luisa Bemberg's I Don't Want To Talk About It, he even married a midget. His performance as a closeted homosexual, opposite Sophia Loren's frowsy housewife, in Ettore Scola's A Special Day remains indelible. He kept an artist's open mind to the great film experiments of his day, and he wasn't afraid to look ugly or ordinary.
But even Mastroianni cannot hold our attention for over three hours. And when interest flags, there's no dirt to appeal to baser instincts. (The closest the film comes to a personal confession is a silent pan around an unidentified Parisian apartment belonging to ex-wife Catherine Deneuve.) Priceless anecdotes about Fellini or his family are scattered amid sprawling reflections on television nature documentaries and smoking in America. It seems that director Anna Maria Tato was so enamored of her late great mate, she simply couldn't bear to say "cut."
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