Ivan Cavalli (Leopoldo Trieste) brings his new wife Wanda (Brunella Bovo) to Rome on the least romantic honeymoon in history?a rigid schedule of family meetings and audiences with the Pope. But Wanda, dreaming of the dashi... more »ng hero of a photo-strip cartoon, drifts off in search of the White Sheik, thus setting off a slapstick comedy worthy of Chaplin. The style and themes which made Federico Fellini world famous are already apparent in this charming comedy (his first solo directorial effort), featuring such long-time collaborators as his wife, actress Giulietta Masina, and composer Nino Rota.« less
"Perception is reality. So goes the current slogan. And this movie addresses that slogan in at least two ways.
First, there is the history of this movie's reception. When first released, it was basically ignored as a minor and un-engaging comedy. Now, knowing that its creator is a genius, people see it presciently as the budding of a master. Which view is correct?
Second, there is the content/form/imagery of the movie itself. The movie abounds with occasions for alternate perceptions: Sick wife or missing wife? Abandonment or accidental delay? White Sheik or fake? A drunk man or a grieving man at a fountain? And so on.
The movie begins with a newly-wed couple arriving in Rome to meet the groom's extended family, family who will take them on a tight-scheduled site-seeing tour or Rome, ending with a meeting with the pope. While the husband naps in the hotel room, the wife slips out to try to quickly see her fantasy hero, the White Sheik who is the main character in a photo-based cartoon strip (popular in Italy in those days). While she is on her unexpectedly long quest, the husand awakes to discover his wife gone. Then three sets of perceptions ensue: the wife's perception of the White Sheik, the husband's perception of his wife's absence, and the husband's family's perception of the husbands's explanation for the wife's absence. (Phew! That's a lot of perceiving!)
Many of these sets of perception are presented to us in fantastic or humorous imagery. The first time we meet the White Sheik, he is on a swing, high and lifted up between trees, in the middle of nowhere. A wide-eyed groom, wanting desparately to "keep up appearances" to maintain family honor, is surprised and frantic (and lying) at almost every turn. The groom's family are in the dark through all of the movie. A fire-breathing man wanders the shadowy streets in the middle of the night. And more.
In most of the foregoing cases, the movie makes clear to us, the audience, which is illusion and which is reality. It is the people in the movie who do not know that their peceptions may be askew. But not everything is clear to us. The next day, for example, the newly-wed groom gives a brief accounting of his behavior during the previous night. Is he telling the truth? Neither we the audience nor the people in the movie know. Their and our assessments will depend on . . . perception. And these and other issues of perception all take place, as does the entire movie, in the shadow of an anticipated "audience" with the pope -- another larger-than-life man who wears white.
Opportunities for perceptions abound.
Fellini has characters in this movie say more than once that life is a dream. Is a dream the same as an illusion or a perception? The movie simply depicts various scenarios in which, about half the time, the illusion is more desirable than the reality. Thinking back now on the White Sheik on the swing, I am reminded of the words of the song, " . . . or whould you like to swing on a star, carry moonbeams home in a jar, and be better off than you are, or would you rather . . . " But that's just my free association.
Two elements in this movie make it so effective. One element is that the people are real, actual, identifiable people: an actor is an actor, a wife is a wife, a husband is a husband, an extended family is an extended family, a pope is a pope. They are not "made-up" stick figures standing for or standing in for something else. And yet . . . they tell us about so much more than themselvs. They are what Dorothy Sayers, in the introduction to her translation of Dante's "Divine Comedy," calls "symbolic images" instead of "allegorical figures," which is why Dante's work is so effective -- just like this work by another Italian.
The other element that makes this movie so effective is the humor. The film has a light and jaunty feel. It amuses, so we relax. Oddly, by relaxing and not thinking too hard about ("figuring out") what we are watching, we enter into the scenarios more easily, allowing unfolding issues to seep into us more immediately.
I think this movie is perfect. It is complete and self-contained and stops when it has acheieved its end. It is what it is and nothing more -- or less. It is amusingly disarming in its seeming simplicity. Even a small gem is a gem, and this one sparkles.
PS Viewing this movie in conjunction with Woody Allen's "Shadows and Fog" could be instructive (as well as amusing)."
Edward Aycock | New York, NY United States | 05/05/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a glorious trasfer of one of Fellini's earliest films. This film is much more simple and light than many of Fellini's subsequent films, but it has a charm all of its own. The fairly straightforward story holds very few surprises or twists, but it also a nice exploration of fantasy vs. reality. The introduction of the White Sheik sitting in his swing, high in the air is a wonderful moment. As the film goes on, the dashing sheik just becomes to us an overweight and vain man and our illusions, like the young wife's, are dashed. Variations of this story have been done many times, but this is one of the most pure and enjoyable. The film is also notable for the introduction of Cabiria (Giulietta Masina) who would have her own Fellini film a few years after. It's not a very long scene, and it is included in its entirety on the "Nights of Cabiria" DVD by Criterion. Despite that, this is still a DVD worth owning to watch a master filmmaker get used to his craft."
Si! Si! Con la esposa!
rballjones | Des Moines, IA USA | 02/07/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A most comic and human film, "The White Sheik" was apparently Fellini's first and, for sheer enjoyment, beats anything he did after the great "Nights of Cabiria." It made me laugh almost non-stop from start to finish. Ivan and Wanda are a young newlywed couple from a small town-- checking into a hotel in Rome. Ivan, rather nervous and ambitious, has their honeymoon planned to the minuto--most to be spent with his relatives, including Uncle who has connections to the Vatican. Wanda, a dreamer, is taken by stories and pictures in a certain periodical. She learns from the porter the location of the publisher is only 10 minutes away. She can't resist! When Ivan takes a nap she is off for a visit. Arriving, she soon finds the characters of her dream stories in the flesh and in costume, for they are preparing to make a film. Felga! Oscar! The Cruel Bedouin! Most of all Wanda wants to meet the White Sheik for she has made a drawing of him and wants him to have it. In the meantime Ivan, thinking Wanda was in the bath, awakens to find her gone. The relatives (all of them) soon arrive. Ivan, so anxious to show off his new wife, is perplexed at her absence and doesn't know what to say to the family. One comic event after another follows.In a memorable scene, Ivan meets Cabiria (yes, the one we know) although he does not initiate or even consummate an affair with her as another reviewer claims. To do so would be totally out of character.Speaking of characters, there is a great supporting cast--from the hotel clerk ("Postcard?"); the respectable Uncle ("Man to man...tell me what's happening"); the film director (shouting: "Take out the concubines! Bring on the camel!"); and, of course, the White Sheik, a sort of 1950s Flavio with his square jawed good looks and rich mane of hair. This is a great film and is highly recommended."
FELLINI'S FINE FIRST FEATURE
Robin Simmons | Palm Springs area, CA United States | 05/02/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"THE WHITE SHEIK is Federico Fellini's 1951 solo directorial debut. When I think of a Fellini movie, the first things that come to mind are: the image of someone in diaphanous material floating across the screen, people in antiquated circus-like costumes and a main character who escapes into a fantasy that turns out to have a poignant impact in his or her real life. All these elements are part of the texture of The White Sheik. A provincial couple come to Rome on their honeymoon. Ivan the groom has made an unromantic schedule of appointments for them. Wanda the young bride, an avid fan of the widely read soap opera photo-comic strips called fumetti, sneaks out of the hotel for a few hours to meet her comic book idol, The White Sheik, and give him a drawing she made. It's all innocent but one thing leads to another and she inadvertently gets taken to a distant photo shoot where the sleazy actor playing the sheik comes on to the bride, now dressed as a harem girl. Meanwhile in Rome, her distraught husband seeks to keep his bride's disappearance a secret from visiting relatives and a scheduled visit with the pope. Look for Fellini's wife, actress Giulietta Masina in a small role as the prostitute Cabiria. A few years later, Masina starred in Fellini's masterpiece, the heartbreaking NIGHTS OF CABIRIA (Criterion). Nino Rota, who became a long term Fellini collaborator, composed the evocative score. The White Shiek has suffered little over time. I think Fellini saw life as a bittersweet fantasy full of slapstick and hope. A pretty good definition. Additional material includes a recent interview with the two stars who reminisce about their magical time with Fellini in Rome half a century ago. Recommended"
One of Fellini's Best!
Alex Udvary | chicago, il United States | 01/06/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
""The White Sheik" is about a young couple on their honeymoon. Ivan and Wanda Cavalli go to Rome, so she can meet his family, but, what Ivan doesn't know is, she secretly wants to meet "The White Sheik" (Alberto Sordi), a comic book character! Wanda (Brunella Bovo) sneaks out of their room to go find "The Sheik". And Ivan (Leopoldo Trieste) is stuck trying to figure out a good excuse as to why his bride can't see his family. For a foreign movie, and for a film made by Fellini, this is actually quite funny. Their are nice performances by the characters, and good directing by Fellini. This would make a nice start in your collection of Fellini's films. The script was done by four people, including Fellini, but, also fammed Italian director Michelango Antonioni co-wrote this script as well! And anyone familiar with him will find this to be a shock. Also Giulietta Masina (Fellini's wife) is in this movie as well. She plays a character named Cabiria. Fellini would later make a movie around this character in his masterpiece "Nights of Cabiria"."