Italian pioneer Federico Fellini is among the handful of auteurs who truly pushed the cinematic art-form to new heights. With unforgettable masterpieces such as La Dolce Vita and 8½, Fellini established his own unique vision of cinema which is still discussed and dissected to this day by younger generations of fans as well as scholars.
Born in a small town near the Adriatic Sea, Fellini had an inclination towards artistic activities from a young age and often spent a lot of time either putting on puppet shows or drawing. His childhood and the experiences he gathered during his formative years would go on to play a major role in his later cinematic works.
According to Fellini, the act of making films wasn’t just about finding an artistic outlet. He called it an “existential expression”, a phenomenon that was nothing short of a miracle. Over the course of his career, Fellini created several gems which broke out of the confines of neorealist cinema in the country and contributed to the emergence of a new kind of cinema.
Check out a list of Federico Fellini’s most significant works below.
Federico Fellini’s six definitive films:
I Vitelloni (1953)
The film that set the ball rolling for Fellini, I Vitelloni is now cited by scholars as the master’s first hit in terms of commercial success as well as critical acclaim. While his previous effort had been dismissed by audiences and had damaged his reputation, this showed everyone that he was meant for greater things.
I Vitelloni is a document of the rapidly changing socio-cultural climate of the country in the 1950s by incorporating autobiographical details from the director’s own life. It also marked the shift in filmmaking sensibilities on Fellini’s part, paving the way for great experiments.
La Strada (1954)
Probably the most celebrated masterpiece from the early years of Fellini’s illustrious career, La Strada is one of the greatest road films ever made. Oscillating between mythology and reality, the film revolves around the adventures of a cruel strongman who buys a simpleminded girl to be his assistant.
Fellini later revealed that he had no idea what he was making when he first started penning the concept for the film. At first, it was just an overwhelmingly ambiguous sense of guilt that haunted him but he soon realised that the story was about “two people who stay together, although it will be fatal, and they don’t know why.”
La Dolce Vita (1960)
La Dolce Vita is the film that immediately pops into the minds of almost everyone whenever Fellini’s name is uttered. It starred Marcello Mastroianni as a gossip columnist and traces his strange odyssey into the bowels of Rome in order to find some sort of subjectivity.
Fellini later said that the story was universal and not located within the specific frameworks of Rome even though it documented the “state of Rome’s soul.” He maintained that La Dolce Vita could have been made in other cities like Bangkok but the effect would still be the same.
Another beautiful collaboration between Fellini and Mastroianni, 8½ is one of the finest examples of oneiric cinema. A self-reflexive masterpiece that examines the nature of filmmaking itself as well as the cinematic medium, this is undoubtedly Fellini’s blinding magnum opus.
Fellini wanted to explore the defining moment in everyone’s life, the moment when our dreams of an ideal life come in direct contact with the reality of our existence. “There arrives a moment in life when you discover that what you’ve been told at home, in school or in church is simply not true,” he explained. “You discover that it binds your authentic self, your instinct, your true growth.”
Fellini Satyricon (1969)
A bonafide cult classic, Fellini Satyricon is Fellini at his indulgent best and you just can’t look away. Partially inspired by the works of Petronius, the film explores the fundamental elements of human depravity while covering the spiritual and cultural landscape of Rome.
Satyricon was Fellini’s attempt to desexualise the erotic, making it detached and abstract like an academic exercise more than anything else. He wanted to cast all kinds of cultural icons in it, ranging from the Beatles to Brigitte Bardot but those grandiose plans never came to fruition.
A moving autobiographical work by Fellini, Amarcord was set in the ’30s during the fascist regime in Italy and drew upon many experiences that Fellini had as a child. Focusing on the life of an adolescent boy, the film explores his world in a larger political context.
Fellini always maintained that even his memories were not really memories as they had cinematic embellishments. “It is not memory that dominates my films. To say that my films are autobiographical is an overly facile liquidation, a hasty classification. It seems to me that I have invented almost everything: childhood, character, nostalgias, dreams, memories, for the pleasure of being able to recount them,” he declared.