City of Women: Blu-ray/DVD

Monday, 25 February 2013 00:00
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The City of Women on Blu-ray and DVD“City of Women” is a film by Federico Fellini about a fifty-something male reporter who finds himself in a strange, female-dominated world, a world at once intoxicating, feverish and terrifying. Snàporaz (Marcello Mastroianni, also star of Fellini’s “8 ½” and “La Dolce Vita”) awakens on a train to find a sensuous woman regarding him from the seat opposite. Against his better judgement he is consumed by lust and follows her off the train, across a field and into a forest.

She leads him into the grounds of the Grand Hotel Mira Mare, where he discovers hundreds if not thousands of women and a few male hotel staff being bossed around. The women appear to come from all walks of life and are engaged in all manner of debates, rituals, games or simply letting their hair down. Snàporaz is initially amused if a little bewildered, but later fears for his life when the women turn their feminist angst and fury on him.

I believe this is the first Fellini film I have seen, and I was not sure what to expect. The synopsis suggests something along the lines of Sean Connery’s “Zardoz”, and this movie does have much in common with that sci-fi oddity. The most obvious similarity is the strong, confident, female-oriented world, and they both discuss the weaknesses and shameful qualities of some men such as their propensity to objectify women, demean them and expect them to do all the housework.

Both movies also feature some quite outlandish and striking imagery. “Zardoz” has its iconic, floating stone head and Connery in a nappy, and “City of Women” has a multitude of examples of sets and scenes that defy expectation and sometimes explanation. To the film’s credit, it is difficult to be limited to a few choice examples. At one point, Snàporaz slowly descends a red water slide (minus the water), suspended high up in the darkness and lit by hundreds of light bulbs, passing re-enactments of key moments in his past like a personalised fairground ride.

In another, very symbolic example, Snàporaz stumbles into an isolated mansion and traverses a corridor dedicated to a sample of the staggering 10,000 female conquests of Dr. Sante Katzone (Ettore Manni, who tragically died during the production), a brash and unrepentant medallion man. Each one-night stand is represented by a framed photo with a light switch beneath it that illuminates the woman’s photo, and plays a sound-sample of her side of their love-making act.

A third example of the wondrous imagination at work in this movie would be when the reporter is encouraged to don a pair of roller skates and lurch his way across a cavernous, empty hall. All of a sudden, a hundred women descend into the room down a fireman’s pole like rats catching sent of a meal. They form a colourful, whirling ring of skaters that pins Snàporaz in the centre of the room, disorienting him with their motion as he tries to escape.

I was constantly reminded of the work of Terry Gilliam, for example in the equally dream-like “Brazil”, “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” and “Time Bandits”. Visually and tonally, this movie is easily a match for each of those.

One of the interviewees in the special features states that Fellini presents a ‘mocking but sympathetic’ view of feminism, which hits the nail squarely on the head. One need only cite a funny scene where an actress pretends to be an agitated housewife juggling many chores at once, and at break-neck speed, for example doing the ironing, feeding her babies and cooking. Then her Frankenstein’s Monster of a husband (literally) enters the scene and expects her to make love in addition to her other duties. It is an abhorrent and powerful scene with a clear message.

If you like the thought of a fresh take on ‘Alice in Wonderland’ but where Alice is replaced by Alan (Snàporaz), I strongly urge you to give this movie a go. I do not pretend to understand all of its many levels and references, but it succeeds on whichever level you want it to, be it simply an amazing visual experience or something much, much deeper.

Special features include:

  • HD Restoration of the Film, presented in 1080p on the Blu-ray
  • Newly Translated Optional Subtitles
  • Booklet containing writing on the film, vintage excerpts and rare archival imagery
  • ‘A Dream of Women’ featurette
  • ‘Notes on City of Women’ 1980 on-set documentary, including extensive behind-the-scenes footage and interviews
  • ‘Dante Ferretti: A Builder of Dreams’ featurette
  • Interview with Tinto Brass, a director friend of Fellini’s
  • Italian and French trailers


There is plenty to get your teeth into here, certainly more detail and content than fans are accustomed to, and the period making-of offers some wonderful on-set footage depicting the construction of the marvellous sets.

The Blu-ray version’s picture quality is stupendous – sharp, colourful and noise-free, and it is definitely the format to get if you want to savour the exquisite set and costume design featured in the movie.

“City of Women” (1980) is out now on DVD and Blu-ray, courtesy of Eureka Entertainment Ltd. The main feature has a running time of 139 minutes approx, carries an ‘18’ certificate and retails for £17.99 on DVD and £19.99 on Blu-ray, or less from

Last modified on Wednesday, 06 March 2013 10:29

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