LOVE IN THE CITY: MATRIMONIAL AGENCY (Federico Fellini, 1953)

In 1953 Cesare Zavattini produced L’amore in città, which comprises six short films, each by a different filmmaker, in one instance, two filmmakers, one of them Zavattini, who also contributed to the scripts of all but one of the films. The “city” is contemporary Rome.
     Federico Fellini made his heartaching “Agenzia matrimoniale” between his first two masterpieces, I vitelloni (1953) and La strada (1954), and it seems cut from the same drifty cloth. A young journalist is investigating matrimonial agencies; but one wonders whether the assignment is a projection of his own ambivalence toward the prospect of marriage. “Someone gave me an address,” his voiceover narration tells us, and there he is, in “an old district of Rome,” a symbol, perhaps, of societal pressure to marry, on the top floor of a dilapidated building, “under the attic.” Hauntingly, the camera follows a flock of young children as they presumably lead the journalist to the agency, down dark and long, winding corridors; losing sight of the children, the journalist loses his way. The children find him; the whole episode is dreamlike. Once at the agency, he presents a fiction; this “cover” is that a rich friend of his, who is very ill and therefore requires his representation, wishes to marry—the start of a series of removes by which Fellini suggests a theme: the uncertain identity of the young man we’ve been following and listening to. In bed, alone, he is rudely awakened by a telephone call from the agency. They have come up with a young woman—an impoverished client. Ostensibly on their way to visit the nonexistent rich friend, the journalist explains, “Doctors say that marriage might cure [my friend].” His illness? A werewolf, he becomes a beast whenever there is a full moon. She will marry him—someone whose circumstance is more pitiable than her own. Self-disgusted, the journalist cannot sustain the charade. He declares her an “unsuitable” match, drawing this response from her: “I knew I would not be suitable.” With no speech passing between them, the journalist drives the pathetic woman back to Rome and predicts (to us) a desolate future for her—a prediction that may be meant, also, for himself.
     (See Fellini’s La dolce vita.)

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