IL BIDONE (Federico Fellini, 1955)

The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Films from Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis

In The Swindle, one of Federico Fellini’s best films, Augusto fleeces peasants. The con man ends up alone on a hillside, beaten in every sense, after concealing money from accomplices that he intended to give his teenaged daughter so she could go to college and realize her dream of becoming a teacher. Augusto (Broderick Crawford, wonderful) has no dreams of his own.
     His “original” accomplices, who abandoned him a year or two earlier, include Carlo, who is called Picasso because he paints; Carlo’s wife, Iris, seems to want him to paint more than he wants to, perhaps to bring him back to an original desire of his that reflects the man she fell in love with. But it is principally fear that motivates the boy to quit his criminal connection to Augusto: fear that Iris will leave him, taking with her the light of his life, Silvana, their young daughter. Roberto, the other accomplice, dreams of becoming the Italian Johnnie Ray, the U.S. entertainer popular in the fifties for crybaby wailing aimed at overcoming deafness when he sang. Roberto’s risking exposure by an application of light fingers at a New Year’s party suggests another facet of his identification with Ray: Roberto also may be a closeted homosexual.
     Augusto is sufficiently old that these “original” accomplices are themselves replacements.
     Tonally, this is perhaps Fellini’s most agile and complex accomplishment. Whether Augusto is bilking the poor posing as a monsignor or a housing commissioner, Fellini takes pains to aim ridicule at the Church, and the superstitious devotion it encourages, and postwar bureaucracy, not the poor. Fellini’s ambivalence toward Iris (Giulietta Masina, his wife) may reflect pressures on him to hew to neorealismo!
     Hauntingly, the film crosses paths with its Fellinidom predecessor, La strada (1954), at least thrice.

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