Starts out with a chattery narrator, dropping wordplay over straightforwardly tourist-doc images of the city. After some minutes of this it shows various episodes with very slight stories, which almost feel like they were scripted after the fact when writing the voiceover, if not for a few scenes that prove otherwise. T. Gallagher’s book says the movie was shot just how it looks like it was shot – piecemeal, one sequence at a time, as R.R. focused on raising funds, having an affair and breaking up with Ingrid Bergman.
I had subtitle problems on my copy, but managed to make it through since there’s little dialogue. Overall not one of my favorite movies, except I was blown away by the first sequence after the tourist-doc intro: loggers on elephants. The director of the Vienna film festival agrees: “The real reason for including the film in the Viennale is my love for the elephants.” After the logging (the elephants knock down threes then lift them on their tusks) the men scrub their elephants clean.
Quick time out for a puppet show, then a boy elephanter is climbing trees to catch glimpses of the girl he likes. Marriage negotiations follow. Cows, a deer, a warthog, and an old man versus a tiger.
Final story: a pet monkey’s owner dies in the desert. Awesome/sad scene as the monkey stays with the owner as long as he can, with vultures approaching and the man not responding. Then the monkey heads to the city, chain leash still trailing behind, and tries unsuccessfully to make new friends. A weird place to end the movie.
Rossellini had already shown a knack for filming children (perhaps why Truffaut loved him so), and now he proves a master at animal drama – which is good, since he’s almost forgotten to include any human drama in the movie. A four-hour India miniseries came out the same year – not sure if it’s an expanded version of this same material or something completely different.