Travelling to Rome by train, middle-aged businessman Snàporaz (Marcello Mastroianni) enters a dream-like state where he finds himself in a world dominated by women. Here, he encounters the Madonnas and whores of his life, his unsatisfied former wife, and is overwhelmed by ‘girl power’, which is materialised through a series of surreal set-pieces (including a night ride with drugged teenage girls and a bizarre court made up of angry feminists).
Part burlesque, part satire, part Freudian nightmare, but all cinema, City of Women is Federico Fellini’s very personal opus celebrating womanhood in all its restlessness, chaos and excessive exuberance. The Italian director’s life-long desires and fears are visualised here using the distinctive style that he honed in 1960’s La Dolce Vita and 1963’s 8½. Released in 1980, City of Women is as dazzling as those cinema classics, but critics were not too kind to the veteran director’s ‘through the looking-glass’ psycho-sexual fantasia, calling it ‘a mountain of tedious pretension’ and ‘a disaster’. Yes, it might be overlong and ponderous in parts, but three decades on, the film’s premise – that the female psyche is an elusive, powerful force – remains a universal theme. And if there is any truth in the saying that ‘Men Are from Mars and Women Are from Venus’, then Fellini’s City of Women only breathes cinematic life into it.
The Masters of Cinema release (on Blu-ray and DVD) includes a new HD restoration of the film, a selection of featurettes on director Fellini, art director Dante Ferretti and filmmaker Tinto Brass, trailers, and a 1980 on-set documentary.