Frederico Fellini grabbed me by the hair and dragged me around for two hours and eight minutes. Watching his 1972 film ‘Roma’ felt like a wild joy ride through the social, political, historical, geographical, satyrical and comical landscape of his home town …Rome.
There are two brothel scenes in the film, one depicting a poor man’s brothel and the other an establishment for wealthier clientelle. The film is purportedly semi-autobiographical, and Fellinni engaged the assistance of his friend the director Pier Paolo Pasolini in an exploration of the city’s sexual underworld. Much to the chagrin of Fellinni’s wife Giulietta Masina (who played a the lead in his 1957 film ‘Nights of Cabiria’ – the story of the prostitute Cabiria) the two spent many long nights out researching the brothels and other nefarious pleasure dens of Rome. The theatricality of these two scenes makes me doubt their documentary authenticity. (A BIG) However …having never entered a brothel in Rome in the 1970s I am ill-equipped to judge, and regardless, the scenes are very compelling. The women stride around simultaneously enticing, taunting and humiliating their prospective male clients. The entry space of both, a cattle market, grotesquely animated shop display. The men at times seem vulnerable and over-awed, like schoolboys about to visit the headmaster for some wrong-doing. I wonder how much of this is from Fellini’s own personal theatre.
Here is a clip of the rich man’s brothel: