FELLINI: THE MAGICIAN OF CINEMA WHO WAS MAKING POETRY
By Miguel Angel Barroso García
Image (ablove), Federico Fellini
And that is Federico Fellini: the artist who came down to earth from the depths to show himself to the world and hide from him. He was born in a port city of northern Italy called Rimini and there spent his childhood and part of his youth until at age 19 he left for Rome, where he soon succeeded as a draftsman and later as a filmmaker. As he himself said in some of his interviews, money never lacked and was always focused on his inner world, achieving a kind of controlled anarchy as to its relationship with producers who agreed to produce all their fantasies again and again. From that world of infancy and early youth, Fellini absorbed everything and let his work be “pretended” autobiographical without relying almost nothing true of his own life. The poet Fellini (like all poets) wrote his verses of what he knew best: his interior rich and full of love for the world.
His fantasy always overflowed and from that attitude emerged his art: invention based on reality. Fellini preferred to add to his life the fantasy, because he was bored to tell reality as it was. That was not his work as an artist. His work was fable, the great engineering of life with its contradictions and its mortal leaps.
Fellini was never interested in judging his characters; he simply loved them, loved them with all the strength of his heart. That is why, undoubtedly, his cinema is clothed with a great dose of morality that encourages reflection and makes us internalize our own sins. The sins of the world are always in your film. For Fellini, the path of life has been to walk always ahead, in search of these chance encounters with destiny, with chance, with God, but not to reform souls lost, not to give a turn to life to start another, but to keep walking, and continue living in the human skin that you see us day and night. And it is on that path where we can understand the human being (ourselves reflected in his films) and take for granted that existence is complicated in itself, but it is the only thing we have to exist.
This is the secret of his cinema: the wisdom to see and let us see, without putting false doors, or windows half open. Such is the purity of his expression, so luminous is the presence of his images that time can not overthrow them, nor can he betray them, nor can they age them. His films are now as they were before: hearts beating desperately in search of other hearts that beat desperately.
These hearts sometimes are happy, others cry, others want to end their life, others lick their wounds, others fall asleep sweetly, others smile sweetly, others show their compassion, and so on and again in a human cycle that it has no end, no more mysteries than the mystery of being alive. And its cinema is born first with the residues of neorealism, because they were the residues of a devastated Italy that fought against the pain and longed to leave the despair.
Federico Fellini conducted his own neorealism without betraying anything, since he had never belonged to anything other than himself and his own commitment.
His opera Luce del varieta, 1950, is co-directed with Alberto Lattuada, although we can say that the film breathes Fellini through all its pores. The film tells the lives of a troupe of traveling comedians through their day to day. This subject matched perfectly with the world of the filmmaker, who expected its explosion later.
We can distinguish three rather differentiated stages within a not very extensive filmography -20 feature films and 3 short films- but very dense, complex and rich that make up a true movie artist with capital letters.
In the first stage, let us call it the neorealist experience, they emphasize especially:
I vitelloni, 1953, which takes place in his hometown of Rimini and portrays the idle life of a series of characters who are involved in many different adventures. No doubt it is a film with deep autobiographical roots, but the portrayal of the characters makes it free of any ties to Fellini’s real life. We can affirm that this is the first great cinematographic work of the director, where he finds the path of his cinema, which will continue with an admirable coherence until the end of his life.A year later he directed his first major international success: La strada, which earned him the first of four Hollywood Oscars.
The disconsolate cry of the brute Zampanò alone, in the middle of the beach, is one of the saddest endings that the film of Fellini has given. The humanism of the director is perfectly represented in La strada, through three characters who are opposite poles and for that very reason, attractive to each other. Gelsomina is an orphan who has never known anything except the misery, but she is so pure physically and mentally that she disarms Zampano, rude, drunk and deeply selfish, with whom she must live resignedly; and finally we have the “crazy”, nicknamed so by his apparent detachment from human beings, which makes him a true philosopher. Gelsomina will see in this personage an enlightened one, a kind of saint to whom it is necessary to pray as it is prayed a sacred image. La strada also supposes the first important and absolute role of Giulietta Masina, eternal muse of Fellini, with whom he shared his whole life until his death.
With Il bidone, 1955, we can say that this first Fellinian stage is closed. is an extraordinary film that tells of a group of unscrupulous professional con artists who dress in the habits of the church to take advantage of very ignorant peasant families. The protagonist is called Augusto, a middle-aged man (played by a superb Broderick Crawford), whose life is in those moments in a great existential crisis, which leads him to betray his cronies, although things are not what they seem.
Le notti di Cabiria, 1959, inaugurates the most successful stage of Fellini’s cinema. The filmmaker feels safe with his tools and applies with great passion to model all those ideas that have been buzzing in his head for so long.
Cabiria is a prostitute (played by Giulietta Masina), who had made her first and brief appearance in the first solo film as director of Federico Fellini: Lo sceicco bianco, 1952.
Cabiria is an unhappy being who wants to be happy about everything, so he never gets discouraged, not even in the most terrible moments in which another human being would have become a bitter one who hates all of society. Cabiria is endowed with a sweet, sympathetic character. He is bright and positive, he feels sorry for others and tries to lend a hand whenever he can. Fellini applies a Christian sentiment to this character, a full sense of compassion and forgiveness. Cabiria is offended by her fellow men, but her natural goodness makes her turn the other cheek and sincerely forgive; but Fellini does not portray a stupid or simple being (his simplicity is in any case profound), but he wants to show us the doubts we all have inside, the intricate existence, the banal of the consumer society in which we move.
The film earned the director his second Hollywood Oscar as Best Foreign Film. And finally, three years later, Italy is surprised and overwhelmed by a film unthinkable until that moment: La dolce vita.
With this film begins the mythical and fruitful collaboration (in addition to a great friendship) between the director and Marcello Mastroianni, undoubtedly one of the greatest actors that has given the cinema at all times. The film, once it opens in theaters, becomes a major scandal that attacks the petty moral of a mediocre and falsely moralistic bourgeoisie that was Italy after the end of World War II. But it was also exported to the rest of the world that borderless “obscenity” that was the Dolce vita, where all traditional values were attacked simply because it exposed the moral misery of a country, a society. Fellini was subjected to all kinds of persecution by the church and the more conservative sectors that wanted to condemn to eternal fire an obscene, depraved and degrading film for the human being. Naturally, all this encouraged audiences to massively attend movie theaters to see with their own eyes those “tremendous” orgies of the aristocracy.
The remarkable story is that it was this film that incorporated into the common language the word paparazzi, because one of the characters was a photographer called Paparazzo, whose job was to besiege the famous Via Venetto. Time has made it clear that La dolce vita is one of the greatest works of art in the history of cinema, both for its honesty and for its innovative advance in the language of cinema. From here on, the Fellinian cinema will gradually be freed from all hint of conventional narration and will take its own course: that controlled chaos of the director’s staging, which highlights to the satiety the dark, baroque worlds, full of ferocious bitterness and anguish that will touch despair and suicide. It is in this chaos of order that Fellini becomes unique and indispensable to himself as an artist who has at last found the language he sought; his own language that does not have to answer to anybody, nor follow the steps of that narrative imposed by the film industry of which he had the courage to move away radically in each new film.
In fact, as a result of this awareness as an author, is born the habit of owning his new films, putting the main title his last name: FELLINI. This, in no way is to be seen as a presumption, but on the contrary, a firm affirmation of its entity as an artist who must be above the commerce of the cinema; although, Fellini was well aware of this painful relationship between commerce and art within the cinema, and sought to seek more or less reasonable agreements to convince its producers. Fellini 8 ½, 1963, is the new collaboration between the filmmaker and Marcello Mastroianni, and in no case could be said to be a mere repetition of La dolce vita, but a giant step forward in his film work.
This time, Fellini had embarked on a project without having clear the resulting film, and this caused him great anguish, because during the preparations of the film, when everything was practically ready to shoot, he still did not know exactly what it was the movie I wanted to direct. Finally, an idea crossed his mind, and that idea was the transience of things, the daily endeavor of things; a director is preparing a movie and does not know what he wants to do! That’s what I was going to shoot! The anguish of himself preparing a script that was never born, that could not be translated to film. And there were the success and magic of a film like this, that created school and became the dream of every director with the author’s enthusiasm: to make his own 8 ½ and to show the world that art has no established rules, but emotions controlled and wisely overturned.
Although the film seemed destined to appeal only to criticism and film festivals, it became a box office hit unparalleled in those years. The origin of the title, as clarified its director, comes from the count of his films until that moment: seven largometrajes and a short film; therefore it was number eight. But the title is absolutely consistent with the content of the film, as it is the reflection of a man’s life in a time of great existential as well as emotional confusion.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Miguel Ángel Barroso García is a dedicated and published Film Historian. His credits include organizing numerous international film festivals and authoring several books including “The Hundred Best Films of Italian Cinema History” (2008) and “The Hundred Best Films of the 20th Century” (2009). Miguel organized the videoconference, “The Unforgettable Anna Magnani”, in tribute to the actress Anna Magnani on the centenary of his birth, held at the Italian Cultural Instituto Madrid.