Picks and Pans Review: And the Ship Sails on

updated 02/13/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/13/1984 AT 01:00 AM EST

Like a painting by Dali or Magritte, this film by Federico Fellini is full of fascinating images that al-most, but never quite, reflect reality. Fellini has made impressionistic films before, of course. Amarcord or Fellini's Roma had the unifying quality of seeming to relate to the director's own life, but what this movie relates to is anyone's guess. It is, for one thing, a tribute to artifice. It begins in archaic-looking black and white. After a few minutes, there is an apparently random change to color film. The characters address the camera directly throughout, the sets are obviously sets and at the end of the film the camera pulls back to show the whole studio setup, including Fellini himself, being dollied around by his crew. As for the story: A group of opera lovers and performers seems to have chartered an ocean liner to take the body of a just-deceased diva to her favorite island for burial. The time is just before World War I and a group of Serbian refugees shows up. So does a gunboat. So do an out-of-sorts rhinoceros and a Russian who hypnotizes chickens. There is a pudgy young duke who looks more like a woman than most of the women. Impromptu arias sprout up everywhere, including in the ship's boiler room. (The music is Verdi and Rossini, with new librettos.) The ship's passengers are not, by Fellini standards, an especially garish lot but they're not your typical Burger King crowd either. The most familiar face is that of Englishman Freddie (Firefox) Jones. Nobody should go to this film expecting a nice clear-cut story with heroes and villains. Even Fellini has admitted, "Now that And the Ship Sails On is finished, I can no longer say what was the original intention." But it is, like nearly all Fellini's work, visually stunning. And for people who don't mind being exasperated by intriguing puzzles, it's more than worthwhile. (In Italian with English subtitles.) (PG)

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