Fellini, Federico (1920–1993)

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Italian film director, screenwriter, and cartoonist.

After showing precocious talent as a cartoonist and sketch artist in provincial Rimini, the young Federico Fellini moved to Rome in 1939 and began work on the humor magazine Marc'Aurelio, a periodical with an enormous circulation that included many journalists working in the cinema. Fellini became quite well known by contributing comic gags, cartoons, serial narratives, and humorous vignettes and was introduced to the social circles of Italian cinema.

In 1943 he married the actress Giulietta Masina (1920–1994), began scriptwriting in earnest, and befriended Roberto Rossellini, who hired Fellini as one of his scriptwriters for Open City (1945), the international hit that announced the birth of Italian neorealism in the cinema and won for Fellini his first of many Oscar nominations (this one for best script). Fellini made major contributions to neorealist scripts for such directors as Rossellini, Pietro Germi, Alberto Lattuada, and Luigi Comencini before making his debut as a director, collaborating with Lattuada on Variety Lights (1951). This first film, followed by The White Sheik (1951) and his first critical and box office success, Ivitelloni (1953; The loafers), begins a trilogy of character that moves Italian cinema away from neorealist emphasis on socially defined characters and toward a more fanciful consideration of how a character's personality may conflict with society's demands. The subsequent trilogy of grace or redemption, three films dealing with the nature of innocence in a cruel and unsentimental world—La strada (1954), Il bidone (1955; The swindle), and The Nights of Cabiria (1957)—employs the only superficially Catholic notions of salvation and conversion to examine secular crises in the lives of his willfully fanciful characters. The first and third of the films in this trilogy garnered Oscars for best foreign film and made his wife an international star. The stupendous commercial success of La dolce vita (1960), beginning Fellini's long collaboration with Marcello Mastroianni (1924–1996), left neorealist cinema behind in its baroque imagery, its picaresque plot structure, and its exuberant treatment of high society corruption. The film's very title became synonymous everywhere and in numerous languages with the society life depicted by Rome's gossip column photographers, or paparazzi, aword that Fellini contributed to the English language.

The film that critics regard as Fellini's masterpiece, (1963), cast Mastroianni as a film director and Fellini's alter ego, earning the director his third Oscar. The high modernist aesthetics of have become emblematic of the very notion of free, uninhibited artistic creativity and have been imitated by many other directors since its appearance. Fellini would subsequently be forever linked to the vogue of the postwar European art film, even though he was one of the few non-American directors who could be counted upon by his producers to score at the box office. Fellini's post- works deal with the myth of Rome, the cinema, and his own subjective fantasy world, and some were quite successful both critically and commercially. Fellini Satyricon (1969) demonstrated his mastery of a dreamlike cinematic language in an original adaptation of Petronius's Latin classic. Fellini's Roma (1972) provided a personal portrait of the Eternal City. Amarcord (awarded Fellini's fourth Oscar in 1974), offered a nostalgic portrait of Fellini's provincial adolescence during the Fascist period. Other, later films encountered both critical objections and commercial difficulties. The breathtaking sets of Fellini's Casanova (1976), the satire of a feminist convention in The City of Women (1980), his humorous portrait of opera singers on an ocean voyage in And the Ship Sails On (1983), and his biting satire of television in Ginger and Fred (1985) and in his last film, The Voice of the Moon (1990), demonstrated the maestro's genius but somehow failed to find a large commercial audience. In his penultimate work, Interview (1987), Fellini provided a moving homage to the art of the cinema that won at least critical acclaim. During the last years of his life, Fellini received career awards from Venice's Biennale and Lincoln Center (1985), as well as a lifetime achievement Oscar (1993).

Fellini's death was rightly seen by Italians as the end of a great era of artistic creativity in their national cinema. His works have influenced such very different directors as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Greenaway, Ettore Scola, Lina Wertmüller, Giuseppe Tornatore, François Truffaut, Bob Fosse, Woody Allen, Nanni Moretti, and Spike Jonze.

See alsoCinema; Italy.


Bondanella, Peter. The Cinema of Federico Fellini. Princeton, N.J., 1992.

——. The Films of Federico Fellini. New York, 2002.

Costantini, Costanzo, ed. Conversations with Fellini. Translated by Sohrab Sorooshian. San Diego, Calif., 1996.

Fellini, Federico. Fellini on Fellini. Translated by Isabel Quigley. New York, 1996.

Kezich, Tullio. Federico Fellini, la vita e i film. Milan, 2002.

Peter Bondanella