Picks and Pans Review: Ginger and Fred

updated 04/14/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/14/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

Clashes between gentle sentiment and crass reality have, of course, cropped up once or twice before in Federico Fellini's films. But neither he nor anyone else has ever depicted that conflict in such a bittersweet swirl of cynicism and emotion as Fellini succeeds in doing with this picture. His wife, Giulietta Masina, and Marcello Mastroianni play a couple who once had a moderately successful (if obviously second-rate) dance act modeled on Fred Astaire's and Ginger Rogers' movie relationship. They are reunited, after 30 years, for an appearance on an Italian TV show that seems to be a cross between That's Incredible! and Entertainment Tonight. Not only do they have to deal with their reactions to each other—they were lovers as well as partners—but they also find themselves at first puzzled, then furious at being programmed with a polyglot group that includes punk rockers and a monk who thinks he can fly. Masina has never made a Hollywood film and is relatively unknown to American audiences, but she is a magnificent actress. She infuses this role with a touching mixture of pride, regret and a wry kind of humor born of the resignation of middle age. Mastroianni is equally affecting as a used-up man who knows that he is a has-been—and that he wasn't ever much in the first place. Fellini's delight is almost palpable as he sets up his climax: the couple's actual appearance on the show. They're racked with doubt over whether they can even dance at all, let alone recapture the mediocre splendor of their youth, and Fellini milks the scene mercilessly. It is corny, melodramatic and altogether irresistible. Like all Fellini films, this one is filled with extravagance, asides and in-jokes probably only his butcher would understand. But even the overstuffing is fascinating in this case, perhaps because it is juxtaposed with such an intimate, personal story. It might not be easy to find a theater showing this film in some parts of the country, but the show would be worth the trip. (In Italian with English subtitles; PG)

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