Celebrating Fellini at 100

On Film / The Daily — Jan 20, 2020
Federico Fellini

Rimini, the Italian resort on the northern Adriatic coast where Federico Fellini was born one hundred years ago today, is hosting an exhibition with an appropriately immodest title, Fellini 100: Immortal Genius. The display of the maestro’s drawings, notebooks, film posters, and other memorabilia is set up in Castel Sismondo, the future site of the Federico Fellini International Museum scheduled to open in December. The current exhibition will head to Rome in April before moving on to Los Angeles, Moscow, and Berlin. And of course, the centenary is also being celebrated with retrospectives, film series, and rereleases throughout Europe and the U.S.


The Cineteca di Bologna, the Cineteca Nazionale, and the Istituto Luce Cinecittà are putting restorations of five Fellini classics in theaters throughout Italy. One of these is The White Sheik (1952), which J. Hoberman, writing in the New York Times, recommends as “not only the first but also in some respects the most charming, least overweening film Fellini ever made.” A new 4K restoration will be screening around the country over the next several weeks, and as Kenneth Turan notes in the Los Angeles Times, of all of Fellini’s features, The White Sheik was Orson Welles’s favorite.

The retrospective currently running at the Berkeley Art Museum, copresented by Luce Cinecittà, will tour the States before arriving at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in December, and there are Fellini seasons and series on in Havana, London, and Sion, Switzerland. The one in Berlin zeroes in on the work Fellini did with Marcello Mastroianni, one of “two performers who lend a nourishing continuity to Fellini’s films,” as Anthony Lane writes in the New Yorker.

The first, of course, is Giulietta Masina, whom Fellini married in 1943. She appears briefly in The White Sheik as Cabiria, a prostitute, and her performance inspired Fellini to put her at the center of his 1957 film Nights of Cabiria. For Lulu Wang, the final scene offers “an incredible demonstration of Masina’s talent,” and Wang writes here in the Current about how this scene helped shape the ending of her own second feature, The Farewell. “The joke, with Masina,” writes Lane, “is that she couldn’t be further from the voluptuaries who stalk through her husband’s tales; with Mastroianni, the joke is that, though forever cast as a seducer, he is visibly hesitant and shy, halfhearted and half-cocked, as if embarrassed by the sway of his own lusts.”

Lane’s piece is one of several occasioned by the centenary. For the British Film Institute, which is sending five Fellini titles on a tour of the UK and Ireland, Philip Kemp writes about the early features and their roots in neorealism—Fellini worked with Roberto Rossellini on the screenplays for Rome Open City (1945) and Paisan (1946)—while Kat Ellinger argues the cases for the “misunderstood, neglected, and underseen” films that Fellini made between 1980 and 1990. Most would agree, though, that the richest period of Fellini’s career stretches from La strada (1954), in which Masina “emphatically reinforced” Fellini’s hunch that she was “capable of being a tragicomic mime in the tradition of Chaplin, Keaton, and Toto,” to Amarcord (1973), a reflection on growing up in an Italian coastal town in the 1930s that’s shot through with both wistful melancholy and earthy humor. In 2015, Hou Hsiao-hsien told Hillary Weston that Amarcord “had a huge impact on my films,” both formally and thematically.

Ranking all of Fellini’s features, the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw places La dolce vita (1960), with Mastroianni as a jaded gossip journalist, at #2. “The movie finds Rome in a hysterical, excitable, but also somehow desperate mood,” he writes, “the mood of ‘Il Boom,’ that economic and cultural revival in which Italy was euphorically eager to forget the catastrophe of fascism and defeat, and to start all over again, in a headlong rush of modernity and excitement: movies, music, fashion, and style. It is as if Rome’s new contemporary sexiness and hedonism has revived the spirit of pre-Christian Rome and pagan ritual. But this coexists with a secret melancholy, a spiritual bust to go with the boom: ennui and fear.”


The #1 spot is reserved for (1963), which Bradshaw sees as “Fellini’s masterpiece,” and indeed, it ranks higher than any of Fellini’s other films in Sight & Sound’s most recent “greatest films of all time” polls, with critics voting it up to the #10 slot and directors placing it at #4. “’s gorgeous black-and-white images explode with the brio of a man who portrays his inner life as a circus,” writes John Powers for NPR. “Incredibly for its energy, the movie is about artistic blockage,” notes Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times. Mastroianni plays a director whose sci-fi production is stalled because he’s run out of ideas. “But in 8½, unlike King Lear,” writes Andrews, “something will come of nothing. Inside the monstrous belly of the movie-in-movie, the true movie finds warmth, growth, and life.”

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