Aristocrats cruise with a soprano's ashes and fleeing Serbo-Croatian freedom fighters. Directed by Federico Fellini.
Federico Fellini's 1984 And the Ship Sails On is one of the late master's most fanciful projects, while simultaneously striking one of the most somber notes in the director's filmography. The year is 1914, the eve of World War I and the coming destruction of Europe's old, cultured aristocracy, an elite class mourned in many a film from Renoir's The Grand Illusion to Truffaut's The Green Room. A luxury liner sets sail from Italy, full of artists, a royal entourage, and one rhinoceros. The point of the voyage is to scatter the ashes of a world-famous diva, but the exotic passengers--blithely unaware of the imminent conflict--have many, more private intrigues going on behind closed doors. Still, it is the self-containment and formality of these travelers, at once absurd and moving, that sticks with the viewer: the way the many singers, musicians, and conductors (and one plump archduke) seem aware, in public, of embodying a privileged history. Fellini films all the action aboard an impressively lush and blatantly artificial set, with a painted sky, paper moon, and cellophane sea, all underscoring the dreamy, precious nature of this adventure. The camera itself becomes a kind of character via a determined journalist (Freddie Jones) who speaks to us directly, drawing the film into vaguely obscene disruptions of an otherwise serene formalism. --Tom Keogh