NOTES ON FILM & RESTORATION

08/20/2021

Il Bidone, recently restored by The Film Foundation and the Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata, in collaboration with Titanus, has always been considered one of Federico Fellini’s “minor” works. True enough, I guess. Just as Poor Folk is “minor” Dostoyevsky and Pericles “minor” Shakespeare: when you’re in territory that exalted, the word “minor” ceases to be of much use.

Il Bidone started life as a picaresque comedy about Italian swindlers in the key of Lubitsch, inspired by real con men. The picaresque part stayed intact, but the deeper that Fellini went with his research, the less potential for humor he saw. The con men he encountered were largely ruthless, pitiless and misanthropic, and I suppose that accounts for the film’s unusual tone, often balanced but sometimes wavering between farce and melodrama, as well as Fellini’s relative distance from the material. “After the playfulness of I Vitelloni and the vertiginous total commitment of La Strada,” writes Tullio Kezich in his Federico Fellini: His Life and Work, “[Fellini] feels oddly detached from Il Bidone.”

According to Kezich, the director had wanted Bogart for the lead but had to drop the idea because of the actor’s rapidly declining health; according to Charlotte Chandler’s I, Fellini, he never liked Bogart as an actor in the first place. Fellini thought of Frank Sinatra and Pierre Fresnay before he saw a poster of Broderick Crawford in All the King’s Men, and he had his Augusto.

The original 150-minute cut had a disastrous premiere at the Venice Film Festival, and the film was subsequently shaved down to successively shorter versions. The restored version preserves the 112 minute in-between cut, and it’s difficult to imagine the film needing more. It is true that the film becomes far more “prosaic” for much of its last third than anything in the total immersions that are La Strada or Nights of Cabiria, which came before and after. But the better part of Il Bidone is remarkable, a portrait of a man who is becoming spiritually and physically sickened by his own actions but who doesn’t know how to do anything else: his own forward motion is making him nauseous.

Il Bidone is an essential piece of Fellini’s collected body of work, one of our greatest treasures. We have to guard it with our lives.

- Kent Jones

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IL BIDONE (1955, d. Federico Fellini)
Restored by the Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory and The Film Foundation in collaboration with Titanus,
with funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation.

The Film Foundation

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