Arrow Video: The Voice of the Moon (1990) - Reviewed

The grand Italian writer-director Federico Fellini is inarguably one of the most important filmmakers in the history of cinema.  In a near 40 year spanning career, the director has won everything from the coveted Palme d’Or for his 1960 masterwork La Dolce Vita to four Academy Award wins for Best Foreign Language Film for La Strada, Nights of Cabiria, , and Amarcord.  Already a master in his own time, the Italian maestro’s mixture of the fantastical, bawdy, whimsical and often carnivalesque influenced everyone from Terry Gilliam, Emir Kusturica and even David Lynch.  Often life affirming and visually overwhelming with boundless, typically anecdotal information coming at the viewer from all sides, Fellini is in a class all his own and remains one of cinema’s most formidable giants to learn from and respect.

All of this makes the reception to his final swan song The Voice of the Moon all the more baffling for how swiftly critics, audiences and distributors turned on the maestro.  Based upon Ermanno Cavazzoni’s novel The Lunatics’ Poem and starring Life is Beautiful actor/comedian Roberto Benigni, the film is something of a smorgasbord of recurring obsessions and themes to be found throughout all of Fellini’s films.  Concerning an off the wall poet recently released from a mental institution, the film is a fleeting and Saroyanesque serenade through the wonderment and whimsies of the Emilia-Romagna countryside of the director’s upbringing.  Much like Akira Kurosawa’s Madadayo, The Voice of the Moon plays less like a conventional narrative than an open farewell to a life sitting in the director’s chair. 

Unlike the aforementioned film however, The Voice of the Moon also feels oddly dated and indicative of the auteur coming across as both yearning for nostalgia and a bit like an old man having a go at youth.  Take for instance a sequence where our hero wanders into an abandoned warehouse where some kind of disco dance party with patrons dressed like the ones in the music video for Michael Jackson’s Beat It.  As it continues, the disc jockey just so happens to be blasting Jackson’s The Way You Make Me Feel and the coup de grace involves Gonnella (Paolo Villaggio) dancing a waltz as the young punks stop to form a circle and watch.  It’s the kind of fantasy Fellini would dream of to separate himself from the pack and as such it comes across as somewhat dismissive.

After screening the film at the Cannes Film Festival, The Voice of the Moon was both critically panned and tragically left without a distribution deal in the US and UK for many years until the good folks at Arrow Video proceeded to serve up a digitally remastered blu-ray edition.  Now that it’s available, I’m glad to have seen it but tend to agree with critics his final effort is far more self-indulgent and personal than his previous works.  Where his earlier works did overload the viewer with sensual delights and increasingly hallucinatory magical imagery, there was somehow something holding them together whereas The Voice of the Moon plays a bit like a series of disconnected vignettes which never coalesce.  

Personally my favorite Fellini where he gets everything right remains The Temptation of Dr. Antonio from the anthological film Boccaccio ’70 which united the director with Mario Monicelli, Luchnino Visconti and Vittorio De Sica.  Though only a short segment the narrative hook synchronized beautifully with Fellini’s interests, passion for life and bawdy penchant for women with curves.  Here, The Voice of the Moon finds the director in familiar territory but lacking the drive that made Dr. Antonio so wildly entertaining.  In summation, this is strictly for Fellini die-hards only, offering up a wealth of whimsy and fantastical imagery but ultimately paling in comparison to what the man did before.

- Andrew Kotwicki