And the Ship Sails On (1983): Fellini’s Look at Ocean Voyage

(El La Nava Val) Italian

At the time of its release, in 1983, some critics unfairly dismissed Fellini’s operatic saga, “And the Ship Sails On,” as too light and too trivial.

And the Ship Sails On
And the ship sails on post2.jpg

Italian release poster

While certainly not one of the Italian director’s greatest works, this sharp, evocative look at a 1914 ocean voyage to scatter the ashes of a world-famous opera singer (Janet Suzman) is by turns charming, funny, bizarre, and eccentric.

The ship’s passengers are diverse, aristocrats, politicians, singers, and a rhinoceros, but they are all self-absorbed. Their interactions involve conflicts and intrigues, both personal and political, serio and comedic; there is also a group of refugee Serbs boarding the vessel.

The British actor Freddie Jones plays a reporter named Orlando, who addresses the audience directly throughout the tale. David Lynch was so impressed with Jones’ persona that he cast him in “The Elephant Man” and “Dune.”

Fellini and co-scripter Tonino Guerra suggest in their satirical, often subtle narrative the decay of European society prior to World War I, highlighted by the film’s stylized artifice.

The ship sails on an artificial ocean against an artificial sky, designed by the brilliant, Oscar-winning art director Dante Ferretti in the studios of Cinecitta.

Episodic to a fault, the plotless film is admittedly overlong (two hours and 12 minutes), but it contains many funny and poignant moments to justify the viewing of an idiosyncratic fantasy spectacle from a distinguished filmmaker in the last decade of his career.


Directed by Federico Fellini
Produced by Franco Cristaldi
Renzo Rossellini (uncredited)
Daniel Toscan du Plantier (uncredited)
Written by Federico Fellini
Tonino Guerra
Andrea Zanzotto (lyrics)
Catherine Breillat (French version)
Starring Freddie Jones
Barbara Jefford
Victor Poletti
Peter Cellier
Elisa Mainardi
Norma West
Paolo Paoloni
Sarah Jane Varley
Fiorenzo Serra
Pina Bausch
Pasquale Zito
Music by Gianfranco Plenizio (choreography by Leonetta Bentivoglio)
Cinematography Giuseppe Rotunno
Edited by Ruggero Mastroianni (a.m.c.)
Distributed by Gaumont
The Criterion Collection (DVD)

Release date

7 September 1983

Running time
132 minutes