Famed director paid cinematic homage to birthplace
“Life is a combination of magic and pasta,” observed iconic Italian film director Federico Fellini – perhaps an inadvertent but accurate summary of his aesthetic throughout his four decades of movie making. Uniquely blending gritty realism and lyrical fantasy, Fellini (1920-1993) created some of the most arresting visual images ever projected on the silver screen, inspiring a generation of directors like Woody Allen, Andy Warhol and Martin Scorsese as well as cinephiles around the world.
Joining Rome’s Cinecittà in 1940 – once Europe’s largest film studio – the Rimini-born director found his métier in the Eternal City. His screenplay for Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City (1946) was nominated for an Oscar. He followed this up with a succession of his own filmic masterpieces, garnering worldwide acclaim. Rome had become so integral to Fellini’s work it was inevitable that he treated it in a film. In many respects, his exuberant filmmaking approach found its fullest expression in Roma (1972), memorializing the kitschy working-class entertainment of the Mussolini era and steeped in the indelible sights and sounds of the Roman streets. No surprise then that he belongs as much to the city’s artistic identity as, say, a Michelangelo. “In Rome, Fellini found the big personalities and larger-than-life vitality he relished,” explains Alberto Zambenedetti, an assistant professor with the Cinema Studies Institute at the University of Toronto. “He loved Rome.”
While the carnival of Rome appealed to Fellini’s love of spectacle and caprice, his soul forever remained rooted in the humbler Adriatic airs of Rimini. One of his earliest masterpieces, I vitelloni (1953), about shiftless young men in a dead-end seaside town, represents his most direct and realistic treatment of Rimini, while Amarcord (1973) – a dreamlike evocation of the sights and sounds of Fellini’s childhood – is his most poetic. “Certainly all of Fellini’s films emerge from two polarities: Roma and Rimini,” says Marco Leonetti, manager of the Cineteca Comunale in Rimini. “His hometown plays the important poetic centre of his films both in ones directly referencing Rimini and in films set in other places, and particularly the studio films. No matter what subject or theme he explored, Rimini always remained his touchstone.”
Zambenedetti agrees that Rimini had an unmistakable influence on all of Fellini’s films. “It imprinted him like a duckling,” he says. “He left it behind but never left it. If Rome became the language and architecture of his senses, Rimini represented the architecture of his dreams and memories.” “Rimini was integral to his interior landscape,” says Leonetti. “And its influence on his films extends beyond, say, its realistic depiction in I vitelloni and the more mythological tribute of Amarcord. We see flashes of Rimini – any seaside scenes, for instance, clowns and other circus performers – and hear the cadences of Rimini in almost every movie. Amarcord was shot in the Cinecittà studios; Fellini recreated Rimini in the studio, filtered through his imagination.”
Leonetti goes on to add that many recurring themes in his movies such as the coast, the circus, lust, sin and the Catholic Church reflect his experience of Rimini. “The more he retreated into his studio,” says Zambenedetti, “the more he withdrew into his interior landscape of memory: the words, gestures, sounds, smells of food and body. And his films represent the outer projection of that inner world. Rimini was always present, and no matter where he went or made films it shadowed him.”
In contrast to the more constrictive realism of the 1950s, Fellini later plumbed this rich inner landscape to find stories he would customize in the studio. I vitelloni, for instance, still maintains a realistic dynamic in contrast with Amarcord, 20 years removed. But the superficial difference between his early neo-realist films and his later visual extravaganzas fades upon closer inspection. Fellini, the former caricaturist, was never far from flights of fancy. “Remember,” says Zambenedetti, “that I vitelloni was shot through the eyes of a satirist who couldn’t help but caricature even an ostensibly neo-realistic film. Capriccio (whim) rules his work, and charmingly shades even his view of Rimini.”
2020 will mark the 100th anniversary of Fellini’s birth, with celebrations and festivities planned for Rimini’s Grand Hotel (Fellini’s choice of lodging in Rimini), the refurbished Fulgor Cinema (where he saw his first movies) and the Museo Fellini.