IN THE REALM OF spectacle, fashion and image reign. Agents of illusion and artifice, they play a role within the system and game of hierarchy. With Italian filmmaker and provocateur Frederico Fellini’s unbridled theatricality, the Catholic Church comes under such consideration and mockery. Following on from his cult films 8½ (1963), La Dolce Vita (1960) and Satyricon (1969), Fellini takes on the Vatican’s power in the eternal city of Rome in his 1972 film, Fellini’s Roma. The film unravels with Fellini’s signature exuberance, in a semi-autobiographical epic taking us from a brothel in Rome’s red light district, to streets of wandering hippies and flower children, and the nocturnal spaghetti dinners of Italian families, to crescendo eventually through a Catholic Church fashion show in a carnivalesque take on Rome’s deeply religious fervour. With a sense of the worshippers’ collective hysteria, the pressure mounts through the catwalk of ecclesiastical styles and confections, culminating with a blinding, supreme and godly mirage of the Pope glistening in baroque splendour. No stranger to the Church’s power, Fellini had previously been accused of communism, atheism, and treason for his film La Dolce Vita, which was condemned by the Vatican and censored, rendering the viewing of the film a sin in the early Sixties. While Pope Benedict XVI’s recent resignation in Rome has seen the papal throne’s power pivot towards South America with new Argentinean Pope Francis, this film testifies to Fellini’s critical observation of the power of the Catholic Church in Italy, with clothes speaking little on humbleness and spirituality, and lengths on the material excess, corruption and bureaucracy of the Church.
Sophie Pinchetti is an editor, writer and founder of the magazine The Third Eye.