“I love remembering more than living. What’s the difference anyway?” murmurs the internal dialogue of Ivo, a patient recently released from a mental hospital and portrayed by Roberto Benigni in Federico Fellini’s obscured swan song, The Voice of the Moon. It’s a sentiment which the director could have applied to many of his semi-autobiographical treatments, such as the famed homage to his youth, Amarcord (1971), or the iconic revelries of a director on the verge in 8 ½ (1963).
Like many of Fellini’s later titles, his last directorial effort premiered out-of-competition at the Cannes Film Festival, where it sank like a stone amongst English speaking critics and was the first of the auteur’s titles never to procure US distribution. Receiving a bit more love at home, where celebrated comic actors Benigni and his co-star Paolo Villaggio were draws for the audience (the latter received a David di Donatello Award for Best Actor), Fellini’s lyrical critique on the increasing estrangement and apathy of consumer culture remains a bittersweet cocktail of old tricks mixed with cynical urges. Harder to love than the vibrantly kooky vistas and caricatures which populated his most beloved offerings, his final outing plays like a waking dream of a man overwhelmed by his surroundings, where life plays out like a forceful series of spectacles.
Ivo (Benigni), recently released from an asylum, continues to hear voices from the wells he inspects. Attempting to function in the realm of his newfound freedom, he quickly becomes infatuated with blonde beauty Aldina (Nadia Ottaviani), whom he equates with the moon. When the blonde rebuffs him, Ivo pursues her, and eventually pairs up with ex-policeman Gonnello (Paolo Villagio), a cantankerous fellow who lost his job due to his increasingly paranoid frame of mind. Together, they wander the landscape of the Emilia-Romagna countryside into an increasingly dystopic universe until the townsfolk finally achieve their ultimate goal—capturing the moon.
The Voice of the Moon begins with a familiar Fellini trope, the nature of spectatorship. Benigni’s Ivo, a self-professed well-inspector, stumbles onto a group of men peeping at prostitutes. Like Giulietta Masina’s tragicomic central character in La Strada, Ivo is a misunderstood vagabond, a loner on the outskirts of society who is escorted back and forth through a series of sequences he’s sucked into through the film’s orifice motifs. His fixation on wells becomes a metaphor on introspection, which is finally realized in the film’s final moments, suggesting a scant few can hear the voice of the moon, which touches upon the deep, stagnant waters of the well. But contemporary pleasures become overwhelming distractions, drowning out her voice. For Ivo, his infatuation with Aldina Ferruzzi (Nadia Ottaviani, whose only other screen credit is Fellini’s 1987 title Intervista) is also equated with the moon, and she becomes its physical personification. Obsession becomes the underlying escapade of this fairy tale as Ivo tries to return the shoe she launched at his head, and finds it fits more than one foxy lady attending an ultra-hip crowd in the bowels of an industrial rave, where Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” is on an eternal, re-mixed loop.
Pageants (where Aldina is crowned Miss Flour 1989) and contests (where shady competitors vie for best gnocatta) serve as the backdrop for a series of adventures experienced by Ivo and Villagio’s Gonnello, the paranoid ex-prefect who is introduced to his equally unmoored friend during protracted agonies over Aldina. The film marked the beginning of fruitful final chapter to Villagio’s extensive career (who passed away in July 2017 at the age of 84), winning him major accolades in Italy, his first in twenty-years after a breakout role in the Vittorio Gassman directed Without Family (1972).
Like invisible witnesses to their own experiences, they float through a series of strange occurrences until the finale, where the crazed Micheluzzi Brothers, seen throughout the film, have finally managed to catch the moon using their farming equipment. But even when the moon hits their eye, it’s hardly amore, and instead a magical instance is perverted by officials haggling to turn it into a propaganda routine, which spills into agitation and violence. At one poignant moment of self-awareness, a character observes “They’re all performing—none of it is real.” And thus, across a filmography of scandalous cinema, and unforgettable spectacles, Fellini brings us to the precipice of introspection in a world ravaged and consumed by the continual need for bigger, better, and louder.
Arrow Video brings The Voice of the Moon for the first time with this lovingly presented new 2K restoration from original film elements. The transfer in 1.66:1 with original 1.0 mono sound is a ravishing treatment. Fellini’s purposeful re-dubbing of all the actors is in full-glorious force, enhanced to its maximum surreal, otherworldly effect. Notable bonus features are also included on this release.
Towards the Moon with Fellini:
A rarely seen hour-long documentary on the making of The Voice of the Moon is included here, featuring behind-the-scenes footage as well as interviews with Fellini, Roberto Benigni, and Paolo Villagio.
Felliniana Archive Gallery:
A snapshot of the Felliniana Archive, which was established in 1994 by Don Young. Now located in San Francisco, the archive contains more than 5,000 items.
If The Voice of the Moon plays too predictably with notions of the Felliniesque (compared to something like Amarcord, the lack of enthusiasm is similar to the overlooked beauty of Sorrentino’s Youth in contrast to the unexpectedness of The Great Beauty), the film’s magnificence lies in the wavering pleas and attitudes behind the veneer of spectacle Fellini never divorced himself from.
Film Review ★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆