One hundred years after his birth, Federico Fellini still stands apart as a giant of the cinema. The Italian maestro is defined by his dualities: the sacred and the profane, the masculine and the feminine, the provincial and the urbane. He began his career working in the slice-of-life poetry of neorealism, and though he soon spun off on his own freewheeling creative axis, he never lost that grounding, evoking his dreams, memories, and obsessions on increasingly grand scales in increasingly grand productions teeming with carnivalesque imagery and flights of phantasmagoric surrealism while maintaining an earthy, embodied connection to humanity. Bringing together fourteen of the director’s greatest spectacles, all beautifully restored, this centenary box set is a monument to an artist who conjured a cinematic universe all his own: a vision of the world as a three-ring circus in which his innermost infatuations, fears, and fantasies take center stage.
The eleventh disc in Criterion's massive box set Essential Fellini presents Roma, which is delivered on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The disc replicates the 2016 edition Criterion put out for the film, with the menu screen being the only difference, which means its using the same master used for that edition, sourced from a 2K restoration scanned from the original negative. This is the only 2K restoration in the set.
The presentation doesn't look to have been tinkered with in any way and it looks the same as the older edition, and this is what I wrote about that one:
It’s a nice, cleanly rendered image lacking any digital anomalies: no artifacts, no noise, no compression. It retains a natural, film-like look throughout, and delivers a sharp image where the source allows. When everything is perfectly in focus and framed just right, the level of detail can be very astonishing, like the fashion show sequence or the sequence with the underground frescos.
One area I’m still thrown off by, though, are the colours. It does look similar to the Masters of Cinema edition, but the colours do lean heavily on the yellow/greenish side of things. There are no pure whites, just this jaundiced, yellowish hue. There are some nice reds, greens, and blues, but I’m not entirely sure on the generally dirty, yellowish look to the film. This could be the intended look, but it does throw the image off in a few other ways, specifically the blacks, which can look a little milky, and shadow detail at is limited times.
The restoration itself has been methodical and I don’t recall any severe blemishes popping up, just some minor marks. And as stated before the digital presentation and encode itself are both solid: no digital problems popped out and clarity is superb, delivering some sharp textures and depth.
My opinion has change a wee-bit on it, though it comes down to me being more annoyed by that yellow tint this time around; it's much heavier than I had previously recalled. Black levels have also been impacted more than I had originally thought, but they're still pretty milky and crushing can be a bit brutal. Film grain still looks decent but does get a little noisy in a few darker shots.
The presentation for this film was certainly open to improvement, mostly in regards to colour, but sadly this has been left as is. It still has a sharp, film-like look, but it ends up being one of the weaker presentations in the set.
From the article for the 2016 edition:
The Italian mono presentation, delivered in linear PCM, sounds fine. Like a lot of Italian films at the time dialogue has been dubbed over, making voices sound a bit detached from their subjects. Lip movements also don’t always match to what is being said, most glaring during Gore Vidal’s cameo. This of course is all a byproduct of how the audio was put together and there isn’t much that could be done.
Outside of that the track is fine quality-wise. I didn’t detect any glaring issues and it sounds clean. Fidelity and range are lacking, lending a certain flatness in the end, but the track is otherwise fine.
Again, supplements are replicated exactly as they were in the 2016 edition:
Roma comes with a few supplements, starting with a new audio commentary by Frank Burke, credited as the author of the book Fellini’s Films. Burke offers a very academic analysis of the film, explaining rather plainly Fellini’s imagery, the possible context behind each of the film’s sections, the political commentary found underneath, along with sharing some technical aspects of the film. Although I can’t say the film is really all that subtle I was generally impressed by Burke’s skill in explaining what Fellini is doing, not just in this film but other works as well, so newcomers to Fellini may get quite a bit out of this if they feel lost. The unfortunate aspect to the track is Burke’s delivery, which is very dry, thanks mostly to the fact that it sounds like he’s reading from a prepared script, and he does so in a very matter-of-fact manner, without any real energy. I found Drew Casper’s commentary for The Asphalt Jungle a bit obnoxious, but I cannot say it was lacking energy. As it is, I think Burke has put together a solid academic track and I do recommend it, unfortunately there are times where it does feel like you’re stuck in a lecture hall.
The remaining supplements (found under the “Supplements” sub-menu naturally) start off with a 17-minute compilation of deleted scenes. Notes (with English subtitles translating them from Italian) open explaining when the scenes were cut out and how they were restored in 2010, pointing out that despite best efforts the colours are still faded. Footage from the finished film is edited into or around them to give an idea of their original placement in the film (the faded colours of the excised sequences help differentiate from the portions from the finished film). Surprisingly a lot of the cuts are actually quick snippets, and it appears that most of the footage was trimmed by Fellini to tighten up the film a bit (the notes mention that the studio did insist on this on trims, though). The sequence in the subway tunnels shows a lot of trims here and there, and the sequence where an individual is complaining to Fellini about how the film will present Rome to the rest of the world is put together a little differently. There’s also a deleted portion from the bordello that presents a calmer environment before the storm, and here I agree that keeping the energy up in that sequence was certainly the right move. The biggest cut, though, probably involves Marcello Mastroianni as himself, basically asking to be left alone until he realizes Fellini is there. Alberto Sordi also shows up. These are odd cuts but Burke, in his commentary, does talk about why they were probably trimmed out. None of the cuts really change much, but some of the trims admittedly are a bit odd.
Criterion then presents two interviews conducted by scholar Antonio Monda: one with director Paolo Sorrentino and another with Valerio Magrelli, poet and Fellini “friend” (I put that in quotes only because Magrelli underplays the friend aspect). Sorrento talks in detail about how Fellini’s films have effected and influenced him (La dolce vita being a big influence, at least in terms of The Great Beauty), and then explaining why his films work so well for him: it’s thanks to Fellini’s mix of technical skill and his imagination. He then talks about Roma and explains why he ranks the film higher in Fellini’s oeuvre Magrelli’s interview features the writer recalling working with Fellini and the various run-ins he had with him throughout the years before talking about his work and the appeals of his style. When it comes to Roma, though, Magrelli admits to not being fond of it initially, only coming around to it mildly over the years. I can’t say either of these interviews (which run 16-minutes and 17-minutes respectively) are terribly eye-opening, though neither are without value.
Next is Felliniana, a gallery of photos and promotional art presented as an 18-minute video segment with music from the film playing over it. In it you will find a large collection of posters from around the world, along with programs (which all appears to come from the collection of Don Young according to the notes), and these are then followed by production photos provided by MGM. In these photos we also get what appear to be photographs of a rehearsal for a scene that actually wasn’t filmed due to budget constraints.
The disc then closes with the film’s U.S. theatrical trailer[.]
The material is good, even if the commentary is still a bit dry, but still feels a bit light in the end.
Criterion's previous Blu-ray edition was fine but open to improvement, feeling a bit light on features and sporting a presentation with questionable colours. Unfortunately none of that gets remedied here.