Federico Fellini once quipped, "In the hands of traditional filmmakers, the cinema has become a form of art which allows no space for meditation." In contrast, the Italian filmmaker's last several works have a dreamlike quality to them: the viewer can either fill in the spaces between the images or leave them fragmented like an unfinished puzzle. Either approach is suitable for City of Women
Snaporaz (Marcello Mastroianni) is a middle-aged married man who is alternately fascinated and frightened by women. After unsuccessfully trying to seduce a buxom passenger in a train's washroom, he gets off and follows her through the woods to a hotel. There Snaporaz is confronted by a feminist convention; the baffled intellectual is soon exposed to the rage, venom, and power of women. The only other men in attendance are the six husbands of Mrs. Small, and they are as obedient and affectionate as puppies.
Snaporaz's odyssey goes from bad to worse as he is nearly raped by a sex-starved farm woman, taken on a joyless ride by a carload of doped-up asexual teenage girls, and in the end finds himself the guest of Dr. Xavier Zuberkock, a male chauvinist who is celebrating his 10,000th female conquest. The amoral doctor's heart really belongs to you-know-who — mama.
Fellini's obsession with the female sex has stretched from La Dolce Vita to 8 ½ to Juliet of the Spirits to City of Women. But his real interest is ideas about women and that is what this movie is about. Feillnii note: "man has always been accustomed to look at women as a mystery onto which he projects his fantasies. She is mother, wife or whore, or Dante's Beatrice or the muse. Man through the ages has continued to cover woman's face with masks that to his subconscious, probably, represent the unknown part of himself."
In the last half-hour of City of Women, Snaporaz realizes his need to refashion his ideal woman again and again in his dreams. What he seeks in her is a lost part of himself. For Fellini, the movies are a source and a pretext for self-exploration. Although City of Women is poorly paced and a bit repetitive, it does give viewers a chance to mediate upon women and perhaps come to grips with an unknown part of themselves.