HIS BROWN EYES still sparkle and seduce, even as Marcello Mastroianni is succumbing to pancreatic cancer before your own horrified eyes in this long, loving documentary by his companion of two decades, Anna Maria Tat�ver three hours in length, it's for movie lovers only—which is to say, for Mastroianni lovers, since the two are inseparable. The man made some 170 motion pictures in a career beginning in postwar Rome, but while this documentary includes many enjoyable clips, don't expect a simple retrospective of his career.
MARCELLO MASTROIANNI: I REMEMBER
directed by Anna Maria Tat�>runs December 31-January 6 at Varsity
Instead, the gentle actor ruminates upon favorite topics like TV nature shows—"not birds or fish, only mammals!"—and Chekhov (whose works "resemble life"). Mastroianni's interview sessions range over the last several months before his death in 1996 at the age of 72. He sits in various relaxed settings recalling his memorable escape from army service during WWII, later meeting an Italian-speaking Anne Bancroft in '50s New York and, of course, Federico Fellini. (With the latter he had a respectful relationship based on "mutual mistrust," he says.)
"Mi ricordo, si, mi ricordo," he says—"I remember." Of course his reflections are a bit like reading a thick, impressionistic novel consisting entirely of subtitles, skipping from one time to another. "I devoured cinema," he says of his 1930s childhood, where movie houses "were a place of escape." As a young actor, he valued dance over dialogue, noting, "You could just cry watching Fred Astaire." (A clip from Flying Down to Rio, with Ginger Rogers, proves his point.)
Actors will particularly appreciate Mastroianni's singularly relaxed approach to his profession, disdaining Method school preparation in favor of "the necessary distance" between player and part. "Intellect and restraint" are his watchwords, along with a comically detached attitude toward his own famous handsomeness. He frequently obscured his looks with makeup, played roles far beyond his age, and portrayed undignified characters. "I don't like saints and heroes," he confides.
Mastroianni hasn't kept his end of the bargain that movie stars should never grow old—and thank god for that. His most famous character stood aloof from the fleeting glamour of La Dolce Vita; at the end of his life, he seems equally content to observe and reflect. "Perhaps memories are all that we truly own," he says. Elegant, unpretentious, and altogether human despite his suave screen image, this actor expects no standing ovations—though he admits to tears when they come. "I have no great qualities," Mastroianni modestly protests, and the great pleasure in watching this film is proving him wrong.