The announcement of a new pope on March 13 after the sudden resignation of Pope Benedict XVI last month was met with cries and tears of joy in Rome. The installation of Francis I as the Pope on March 19 will include an historical promenade in ceremonial wardrobe. The papal red outdoor shoes, golden three-foot mitra, and gold inlaid vestments are traditional attire. Much has been said about the new pope's relationship to the poor of Argentina but when in the Vatican, regalia, pomp and circumstance prevail.
The ceremonial papal romp evokes a legendary scene from Federico Fellini's episodic cult film entitled "Feliini's Roma" (1972), part of which was censured,about a Vatican fashion show. Production design and costumes were by Danilo Donati and enchanting music by Nino Rota. The film is a tableau of meticulously created scenes of Rome, which to some may seem chaotic and absurd. It has been said that Fellini was only depicting how he saw his own beloved country.
"Fellini's Roma" beautifully shot by Giuseppe Rotunno at Cinecitta studios in Rome is semi-autobiographical about the late Italian director's childhood move from Rimini to Rome. In a cast of unknown actors, the 18 year old Fellini is played by Peter Gonzalez. Anna Magnani and Gore Vidal make special appearances in the film.
In the opening scene in a barren landscape featuring two gnarly trees and an electrical pole in the dead of winter, three women with bicycles, one wielding a scythe, walk past an old road marker pointing to Rome, 340 km away. One of the women makes a comment symbolizing how superior the Italians feel about their culture, "I just got a letter from America. It says everything they eat is out of cans". But later comes a cascade of subtle and obvious self-criticism of Rome.
The next scene features the Rubicon, a shallow river in northeastern Italy which Caesar walked across. A battalion of young military students are admonished to take off their shoes and walk on the path tread by Rome's ancient ruler. Later comes a re-enactment of a play where Caesar is murdered by his court. The young students are then shown in class with photographs of Mussolini on the walls, and in the cafeteria with a statue of Saint Francis of Assisi, the partron saint of Italy, whose name the new pope has taken for the first time in papal history.
The Vatican fashion show in the film features nuns and priests decked out in the most elaborate fabrics and designs, some on roller skates. The entrance of the late pope is the highlight of the catwalk, and his ceremonial attire abounds with light and color in a mesmerizing appearance from the dead.
Fellini knew Rome and the Vatican well, as this classic film demonstrates.