THE WHITE SHEIK is Federico Fellini's 1951 solo directorial debut. When I think of a Fellini movie, the first things that come to mind are: the image of someone in diaphanous material floating across the screen, people in antiquated circus-like costumes and a main character who escapes into a fantasy that turns out to have a poignant impact in his or her real life. All these elements are part of the texture of The White Sheik.
A provincial couple come to Rome on their honeymoon. Ivan the groom has made an unromantic schedule of appointments for them. Wanda the young bride, an avid fan of the widely read soap opera photo-comic strips called fumetti, sneaks out of the hotel for a few hours to meet her comic book idol, The White Sheik, and give him a drawing she made. It's all innocent but one thing leads to another and she inadvertently gets taken to a distant photo shoot where the sleazy actor playing the sheik comes on to the bride, now dressed as a harem girl. Meanwhile in Rome, her distraught husband seeks to keep his bride's disappearance a secret from visiting relatives and a scheduled visit with the pope. Look for Fellini's wife, actress Giulietta Masina in a small role as the prostitute Cabiria. A few years later, Masina starred in Fellini's masterpiece, the heartbreaking NIGHTS OF CABIRIA (Criterion). Nino Rota, who became a long term Fellini collaborator, composed the evocative score.
The White Shiek has suffered little over time. I think Fellini saw life as a bittersweet fantasy full of slapstick and hope. A pretty good definition.
Additional material includes a recent interview with the two stars who reminisce about their magical time with Fellini in Rome half a century ago. Recommended