A young woman pursuing her dream of being on the stage, aligns herself with a traveling variety show band of performers in `Variety Lights,' directed by Federico Fellini (and assisted by Alberto Lattuada). Veteran comic actor Checco Dal Monte (Peppino De Filippo) and his troupe of performers are struggling to get by, living from hand to mouth and show to show, but it doesn't deter Liliana Antonelli (Carla Del Poggio), blinded perhaps by the stars in her eyes, from approaching Checco about joining his show. He turns her down-- they simply have no openings, and certainly no money-- but circumstances soon prevail on her behalf, and much to the chagrin of many of the other performers, she joins the troupe. The effect she will have on the show, and how it will influence her own life, remains to be seen at this point; but with Fellini at the helm, you know it's going to be an interesting ride. And it is. Fellini, a true visionary, is known for filling the screen with vivid images born of his own imagination, especially in his later films. But beyond the sometimes bizarre appearances, there is always an engaging story to be found at the heart of his films, and this one (his first) is no exception. And, though devoid of the surrealism he would use later on, in Checco's company there is something of the carnival motif present that Fellini would return to time and again during the course of his career, and of course, there's the story, presented with that unique Fellini touch and laced with his insight into the human condition, which at it's core is the real strength of the film. No matter what the subject matter, Fellini always had his finger on the emotional pulse of the material and had the innate ability to transfer what he felt to the screen. Very simply, he knew what worked and how to use it; within the images he presents, there can always be found a reflection of reality-- even amid the surreal-- and it's in his characters. Physically and emotionally, these are real people who run the entire gamut of human existence. Beyond his astounding visuals, it's his ability to cultivate that depth of his characters that makes Fellini special; the way they interact with, and relate to one another or the situations in which they find themselves. And by drawing out his actors, he always gives his audience someone with whom to identify on one level or another. As Checco, Filippo successfully taps into the humanity of the character, this aging performer with hopes and aspirations beyond his means or capabilities. He's a character with whom you can sympathize, but only to a point-- for you soon recognize his flaws and transgressions. But even then, you are still able to at least understand him. Most importantly, his performance is believable, and his Checco comes across as a very real person. Del Poggio gives a notable performance as well, as this young woman who makes the most of the opportunity with which she is presented. And as the story unfolds she develops her character extremely well; by the end of the film you know exactly who `Lily' is and what motivates her. In a memorable supporting role, it's the young Giulietta Masina, however, who steals the show as Melina Amour, Checco's girlfriend. She creates the one character in the film with whom you can truly empathize, and she does it with style. Masina has such a radiant, charismatic screen presence, that whenever she appears the eye is instinctively drawn to her. A gifted actress, she is exceptionally adept at expressing her emotions-- often by merely shifting her eyes-- and communicating with the audience. Few actors can say more or convey as much with their eyes or with a simple expression as Masina. And, sparse as it is, her performance here is alone worth the price of admission. The supporting cast includes Folco Lulli (Adelmo), John Kitzmiller (Johnny), Dante Maggio (Remo), Carlo Romano (Enzo) and Gina Mascetti (Valeria del Sole). Well crafted and delivered, `Variety Lights' is an engaging story, told in the same straightforward manner Fellini would later use in `La Strada' and `Nights of Cabiria.' The basic elements of the story may be familiar, but it's an entertaining film, and worth seeing, as it prophesies the triumphs of an artist who would soon be recognized as one of the world's master filmmakers: Fellini. I rate this one 7/10.
Drama / Music / Romance
Drama / Music / Romance
A beautiful but ambitious young woman joins a traveling troupe of third-rate vaudevillians and inadvertently causes jealousy and emotional crises.
December 28, 2020