A […] distinctive feature of the commedia all’italiana is the juxtaposition of fantastical comedic elements with realist drama […] hyperbolic comedic situations, seamlessly blended with moments of intense human drama layered with tragic elements. Federico Fellini’s 1952 film Lo sceicco Bianco is an excellent example of this balance. The narrative is one of heightened action in a comedic setting; a man Ivan Cavalli’s wife Wanda Giardino disappears, pursuing the romantic hero “White Sheik,” so Ivan has to hide his wife’s disappearance from his relatives so not to arouse suspicion. The plot is a funny one, yet still has the tragic underpinning that Wanda does not feel the love for her husband that she clearly has for the “White Sheik.” Film essayist Jonathan Rosenbaum comments on this mature quality in his study of the film. He argues that “One might even say that the film’s greatness stems from the degree to which he recognizes and shares these two characters’ pain without ever losing sight of their naiveté.” The playful narrative circumstances facing the characters do not outweigh the inherent problems through which their marriage is navigating, weighing down the story with dramatic elements.
The above is an excerpt from an essay I wrote in college entitled Commedia all’italiana: The Blurred Lines of Italian Film and Its Cultural Outlook. I just revisited The White Sheik for the first time in years and thought it’d be fun to share my initial reaction from over six years ago, just in time for Fellini 100!