The Voice of the Moon

Infobox Film
name = La voce della luna

imdb_id =
director = Federico Fellini
writer = Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ermanno Cavazzoni
starring = Roberto Benigni, Paolo Villaggio, Marisa Tomasi, Nadia Ottaviani, Angelo Orlando, Uta Schmidt, Nigel Harris, Susy Blady
cinematography = Tonino Delli Colli
editing = Nino Baragli
producer = Mario and Vittorio Cecchi Gori
music = Nicola Piovani
released = flagicon|Italy January 31, 1990
runtime = 120 min.
language = Italian

"La voce della luna" ("The Voice of the Moon") is a 1990 film by Italian director Federico Fellini, featuring actors Paolo Villaggio and Roberto Benigni. Returning to themes he first explored in "La strada" (1954), Fellini crafts a parable on the whisperings of the soul that only madmen and vagabonds are capable of hearing. The odd couple, Ivo Salvini (Benigni), a fake inspector of wells, and Gonnella (Villaggio), a former prefect, wander through the Emilia-Romagna countryside of Fellini's childhood and discover a dystopia of television commercials, fascism, beauty pageants, rock music, Catholicism, and pagan ritual. It was Fellini's last film before his death in 1993.


With a nod to the lunar-obsessed lyrics of Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi, [A portrait of Leopardi hangs in Ivo's childhood bedroom while a large Pinocchio puppet stands in a corner. ] the acerbic tale focuses on the capture of the moon by the Micheluzzi Brothers while Ivo, newly released from a mental hospital, tries to seduce Aldina Ferruzzi with whom he's infatuated. Although she wants nothing to do with him, Ivo equates her blond beauty with the moon, the origin of his madness and frustration. During the attempts to woo her, he meets various madcap characters including an oboist who sleeps in the local cemetery, a man whose hobby is meditating on rooftops, and Gonnella, the ex-prefect fired for his rising paranoia. Gonnella makes Ivo his lieutenant and together they investigate the "wild conspiracies" going on around them.

The oddball pair attends a farcical beauty pageant where Aldina is crowned "Miss Flour of 1989" and ends up lost in the farmlands among graceful African women chanting in the moonlight. Inside an abandoned warehouse, they discover an Inferno-like disco of fashion victims bopping deliriously to Michael Jackson's "Thriller." Ivo realises that Aldina's shoe, obtained surreptitiously, fits every Cindrella who tries it on. To the dancers' stupefaction, Gonnella orchestrates a waltz but is thrown out after smashing the disc jockey's cache of records.

Meanwhile, the three demented brothers have caught the moon using gigantic farming equipment and roped it down in a stable. What ought to be a sacred event becomes a squandered opportunity as priests and politicians turn it into a conference for official propaganda voiced to the assembled public. The conference rapidly degenerates into violence by a madman with a pistol screaming, "What am I doing here? Why was I put here in the first place?" leaving Ivo Salvini with the film's last words: "If we all quieted down a little, maybe we'd understand something."


In Ermanno Cavazzoni's 1987 novel, "Il poema des lunatici" ("The Lunatics' Poem") on which the film is based, Fellini recognized an abandoned project about filming the natural world: "the soil, the seasons, sun and rain, day and night. He likes the notion that at night the water in the well is awakened by the moon and starts uttering faint messages" [ Tullio Kezich, "Federico Fellini: His Life and Work", Faber and Faber, Inc., 2006, 380-81.] to those prepared to listen. Unfortunately, few are permitted - let alone prepared - to listen in the infernal uproar of a postmodern world where blaring television commercials and beeping satellites drown out poetry, silence, and the voice of the moon.

The consumer society critiqued in the Rome of La dolce vita has moved to the superbs where incommunicability, selfishness, voyeurism, and spiritual poverty characterise the chaos of mass media existence. In his twilight years (three years before he died of a heart attack at the age of 73), Fellini mounts an energetic assault on media moguls like Silvio Berlusconi and the pandemonium of contemporary society by suggesting the escape into silence as a means to heal the psyche, the source of all true wisdom.


After writing a short treatment in two weeks with Tullio Pinelli, Fellini began scouting locations on the Po in September 1988 where he visited Reggiòlo, the hometown of the gifted Italian caricaturist Nino Za, his adolescent idol; the memories evoked reinforced his idea of returning to the provincial atmosphere of his early films. [Peter Bondanella, "The Cinema of Federico Fellini", Princeton University Press, 1992, p. 328.] Although Fellini was still unsure about what he wanted to film, producers Mario and Vittorio Cecchi Gori agreed to finance his project to the tune of fifteen billion lire. [Kezich, "Fellini: His Life and Work", p. 383.] Pietro Notarianni, the production manager, and Danilo Donati, Oscar winning Set and Costume Designer, engaged in a heated dispute over costs. Donati quit and was replaced by Dante Ferretti.

To help organise his ideas, Fellini decided to build a town outside Rome on the via Pontina near Dinocittà, the former film studio of producer Dino De Laurentiis. With Dante Ferretti, he constructed a church, a piazza, apartment blocks, shops, and a hairdresser's boutique, all designed in a parody of styles. Although no genuine script was ever completed, Fellini managed to conceive entire scenes each day by observing his actors improvising on the set, rather like puppets in a doll's house. ["", ed. Damian Pettigrew, New York: Abrams, 2003, p. 65.]

Principal photography started on February 22 1989. According to biographer Tullio Kezich, the film "will be remembered as one of the most serenely uninhibited of Fellini's sets... At the final dinner in mid-June, the last time that the troupe will convene, Benigni outdoes himself and recites a wonderful poem in "ottava rima", [With the rhyme on the eighth beat.] recounting everything that had happened and been felt over the last months." [Kezich, "Fellini: His Life and Work", p. 383.]

Critical Reception

Aided by the immense popularity in Italy of comic actors Benigni and Villaggio, the film was a reasonable success with audiences there, receiving enthusiastic reviews from Alberto Moravia, Tullio Kezich, and Aldo Tassone along with a few outright pans. [Kezich, "Federico Fellini: His Life and Work", p. 385. ] Although it did poor business in France, it was acclaimed in Le Monde and Positif, and graced the cover of Les Cahiers du Cinéma which saw it as a winning diatribe on the excesses of Guy Debord's "society of spectacle." [Thierry Jousse, "La voce della luna" in Les Cahiers du Cinéma, 1990, p. 35.]

It was panned, misunderstood or ignored by the majority of North American critics when shown out of competition at the 43rd Cannes Film Festival. One critic boasted, "Absolutely ravishing. I've never been so bored in my life." [Reported in Time Magazine, Oct. 1990, p. 37. See also Kezich, "Federico Fellini: His Life and Work", p. 385-86.]

The film's oneiric structure based in part on a dialectical interplay of forms (e.g. the moon's circular brightness / the black circle of the mouth of a well / the circular peephole for spying on / the squaring of the circle in TV screens) [See Jean-Max Méjean, "Fellini: un rêve, une vie", Editions du Cerf, 1997, p. 218-19.] as well as the quirky, cryptic plot informed by Fellini's belief in a personal and poetic fantasy did nothing to enhance it with movie goers or with critics.

Due in some measure to an uncompromising European optic, the lack of an adequate script, [Tullio Pinelli who co-wrote the treatment of "La voce della luna" explains that Fellini "changed the way he worked... So after some lengthy discussion we wrote a short treatment, which I thought was going to be developed and then turned into the screenplay. But he typed up the sketch as if it were complete and started work, improvising as he went, and I think that hurt the movie." Cited in Kezich, "Federico Fellini: His Life and Work", p. 383.] an over-reliance on improvisation, and a refusal to entertain for its own sake, the maestro's last film became his first never to find a North American distributor.


External links

*imdb title|id=0098606|title=La voce della luna

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