Saturday, October 26, 2013

"I am ignorant, but I read books"

Reading a rather lovely article written by my dear friend Sharon for Il Sussidiario: "La Strada/The Fellini film which is a favorite of Pope Francis," brought up a few memories last night.

I first saw this movie in a film class as a freshman in college. It is a movie that I watch and re-watch. Fellini was an amazing artist.

I was a fairly new Catholic when Fellini died in 1993. Shortly after his death, in memoriam, I watched his last film Intervista (a movie only a true Fellini fan can love). I recall that, as a new convert, I was a little off-put (despite admiring his films greatly) by his relationship to the Church, having been brought up in an environment in which taking such a stance pretty much ruled out being a believer, let alone a practitioner of any kind. In other words, I did not really know what "being Catholic" meant. While I grasp this better now, I am still very much an apprentice. Nonetheless, being put off turned out to be a meaningful experience for me.

It turns out that Fellini, while at odds with the Church's hierarchy for what he saw as their self-indulgence, was devoted to Our Lady and viewed the Church as a loving, even indulgent mother. It was later, watching his movie Amarcord, that I was able to grasp where he came from a bit better. In a recent article, "Why Fellini's films speak to the pope," Annette Insdorf, observed, "Fellini was more concerned with the individual than with politics. As he once said, 'our trouble, as modern human beings, is loneliness … No public celebration or political symphony can hope to be rid of it.'" I watched a movie just last night, Safety Not Guaranteed, that was about our longing not be lonely, but instead to be loved and accepted, or, to use John O'Donohue's preferred term, to belong.

Fellini had a Catholic funeral, which was celebrated by no less than Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, who at the time served as Prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches and who was a family friend (these seeming contradictions- his distaste for the "self-indulgent" hierarchy and having hierarchical friends [think of his film Roma]- would've seemed very natural to Fellini).

At Fellini's funeral, Cardinal Silvestrini told the congregation that Fellini's work was "poetry" that enters people's hearts and that "We should put our questions to the poets, listen to them for the knowledge they have of the suffering world." He acknowledged that Fellini had denounced the Church, but "with irony and love." As a solo trumpet played Gelsomina's song from La Strada, His Eminence came down off the chancel and kissed Giulietta Masina's hand (Giulietta played Gelsomina in La Strada and was Fellini's wife).

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