The 100 Essential Directors Part 3

George Cukor - John Ford

by PopMatters Staff

7 August 2011


Federico Fellini

Federico Fellini
(1920 - 1993)

Three Key Films: La Strada (1954), La Dolce Vita (1960), 8 ½ (1963)

Underrated: Satyricon (1969). Sure, Fellini received his third Best Director Oscar nomination for his adaptation of Petronius’ satire about imperial Rome, but this was also the same movie that had Richard Corliss declare Fellini was reaching his decline while Pauline Kael labeled it as “terrible”. At first glance Satyricon might look just like an oversexed, overindulgent experiment through which Fellini added nothing new to his oeuvre; however, taking into consideration the year when it was released, the film can be seen as a compromise between an up and coming rebellious generation (i.e. hippies) and an artist who wanted to remind them where they came from.

Unforgettable: A Swedish bombshell Sylvia (Anita Ekberg) arrives in Rome to the delight of the paparazzi who follow her all over town. However it’s only the lucky Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni) who gets to witness what has become one of the most sensual scenes in film history. As Sylvia becomes lost in the narrow Roman streets, she discovers the Trevi Fountain and decides to have a bath. Marcello watches from the distance as she invites him “Marcello, come here!”. He doesn’t get in. We would’ve in a heartbeat. From La Dolce Vita.


La Dolce Vita (1960)

The Legend: A master of image, form and story, Federico Fellini’s career could very well serve as a representation of cinema’s evolution. From his early work as a cartoonist and screenwriter, to his eventual worldwide recognition as one of the masters of the medium, he wasn’t afraid of experimentation. During the 1940s he attempted to make films that adjusted to the postwar reality that was pushing European cinema into a style that recalled nonfiction filmmaking. After works like Variety Lights (1950) and his contribution as a writer to the seminal Rome, Open City (1945), but Fellini found his voice when he made La Strada. The film starred his wife Giulietta Massina as Gelsomina, a simple minded woman who joins a traveling circus act led by the savage Zampanó (Anthony Quinn).

While the film stuck to the aesthetics of neorrealism, much like Nights of Cabiria (1957), plot-wise it touched the oneiric territory that would characterize Fellini’s further work. It’s this combination of harsh reality with melancholy and fantasy that defines some of his greatest films, from Juliet of the Spirits (1964) to Amarcord (1975). “Talking about dreams is like talking about the movies, since the cinema uses the language of dreams” he once said and proof of this is his 8 ½ which deftly, if almost by accident, penetrates the creative mind and its complexly mysterious nature.

Fellini wasn’t a big fan of “the truth” and his biographers usually point out the way in which his life story changes according to the listener. His one true purpose was to tell stories and entertain. In Amarcord (1973), film for which he received a record breaking fourth Oscar nomination for Best Director (no other foreign language filmmaker has achieved this), he remembers his childhood but filters it through a nostalgic, fantastic lens which makes it one of the most endearing coming-of-age films ever made. He told them, like he wished they would’ve happened. Jose Solís Mayén




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