100 years of Federico Fellini

Earlier this year, in January 2020, Italian director Federico Fellini would have turned 100 years old. During his lifetime, he became, undisputedly, the country’s most acclaimed filmmaker, and only a few are as renowned as Fellini is worldwide. His films are grotesque fantasies, celebrations of passion, sensuality, and dreams.

Born in Rimini in 1920, Fellini started his career as a cartoonist, intuitively developing a sense of human tragedy that, similarly to comic culture, often tends to lie behind a sense of melancholic humour. At the time, during the end of the Second World War, Italian cinema was defined by the neorealism movement, characterised by promoting a new democratic spirit that emphasised the experience of the working class. In 1945 Fellini was one of the writers working on Roberto Rossellini’s “Rome, Open City”, a drama portraying the Nazi occupation of Rome in 1944. This film became a classic amongst the neorealism oeuvre and while many consider Fellini’s early productions to be part of this genre, he never fully committed to it. With time his works developed more abstractly, ultimately creating his own world filled with highly stylised cinematography and reoccurring characters, plots and motifs.

One of his earliest productions, “La Strada” (1954), closely followed the typical neorealism plot, telling the fable of the simple woman Gelsomina. Played by Fellini’s wife Giuletta Masina, her character is being sold to the strongman Zampano, touring with his circus act through Italy. While he treats her cruel, she is able to shield herself from the tragedy of her life by adopting a humorous character in the style of Charlie Chaplin. This film ultimately launched Fellini’s career internationally, as it became the first winner of the newly introduced category of best foreign film at the Oscars in 1957. It furthermore solidified a classic Fellini leitmotif- that of the circus stage, emblematic of the performative aspect that the director relates to the human experience.

Many of Fellini’s character’s storylines evolved on the stage, symbolically and literally, as the director continued to explore autobiographical themes such as the world of stardom and cinema itself in his groundbreaking film “La Dolce Vita” (1960). The timeless masterpiece outlines in an episodic structure the life of Marcello, a Roman journalist living superficially through the experience of others. By emotionally detaching the viewer through various cinematic techniques, Fellini raised questions about the nature of journalism and the growing entertainment industry overall. “La Dolce Vita” emphasises emotional detachment of spectacle by abandoning suspense. While its title suggested the representation of the “sweet” life, Fellini depicted a life filled with alienation, decadence and despair.

Similarly “8 1/2” (1963) tells the story of film director Guido Anselmi who finds himself privately and professionally in a deep crisis. The opening of the film, a surreal dream sequence introduced the viewer to another characteristic Fellini leitmotif- dreams. For about forty years, the director documented the things that occurred in his dreams, directly incorporating his imagination into the storylines on screen. Fellini’s dreams have are reported to have been so significant, that they influenced his professional decision making, cancelling productions of films due to unlucky signs appearing to him. The autobiographical references in the film are further intensified with its casting. Carla, Anselmi’s affair in “8 1/2”, was played by actress Sandra Milo who famously had an adulterous relationship with Fellini himself for years. Both “8 1/2” (1963) and “La Dolce Vita” (1960), the director’s most acclaimed films, quickly became cinema classics. The work of Fellini and Rome’s Cinecittà were significant European competitors against the growing American Hollywood machine.

Although Fellini had been nominated for 23 Academy Awards, winning eight, his real legacy is reflected in the immense cultural influence inherited by his successors in Italy and worldwide, as well as artists across all fields. Amongst many post-war artists who have referenced the work of Federico Fellini is Mimmo Rotella. In works such as “Dolce Vita” (1963), “8 1/2” (1963) and “La Diva” (1963) the artist appropriated advertisement posters for Fellini films in a series of photo emulsions dedicated to the productions of the Cinecittà studios.

Cardi Gallery invites you to experience this magical era of cinema portrayed by Mimmo Rotella in his photo emulsions. While our galleries in Milan and London are currently closed, the exhibition “Beyond Décollage: Photo Emulsions and Artypos, 1963-1980” of the works by Mimmo Rotella is currently on view on our website.

Mimmo Rotella8 1⁄2, 1963Photo emulsion on canvas

Mimmo RotellaLa diva, 1963Photo emulsion on canvas

Mimmo RotellaLa dolce vita, 1963Photo emulsion on canvas