And the Ship Sails On
(E la nave va)
With With Freddie Jones, Barbara Jefford, Victor Poletti.
Italy/France, 1983, DCP, color, 128 min.
Italian, German, Serbian and Russian with English subtitles.
DCP source: Luce Cinecittà, Cineteca di Bologna and Cineteca Nazionale
Aristocrats, novelty musicians, painters, political firebrands, hopeless romantics, and a putrid rhinoceros form the ensemble for this fanciful fabrication of pre-WWI Italian history, a period piece defined by its own artificiality. And the Ship Sails On imagines the memorial cruise of a bunch of stuffy artist types in 1914 to a fabled Adriatic island, where they are to scatter the remains of famous opera singer Edmea Tetua. On the way, they’re met by a troop of Serbian refugees, some of whom may have dubious motives—this being shortly after one of their countrymen murdered the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Mollifying all potential friction, however, Fellini turns this funereal pilgrimage into a joy ride filled with episodic digressions and absurd bits of business in every nook and cranny of the vast ship. Led by a frizzy-haired journalist (Freddie Jones) with a fondness for breaking the fourth wall, the film’s multi-deck tour encompasses a variety of one-off spectacles, including a symphony of silverware in the kitchen, a battle of singing voices in the bowels of the ship, a basso stoning a chicken to sleep with his bellow and an impromptu celebration with the Serbs against a glittering cellophane sea. A feat of production and costume design, And the Ship Sails On crystallizes Fellini’s view of the role of artists in a war-torn world: a privileged sect of humanity there to bring laughter and, just maybe, a glimpse of the sublime.