Fellini 1920-2020
In 1960 I was 10 years old. One night at dinner my parents started talking about a new movie every body was eager to see: "La Dolce Vita" was the title. They sounded excited. The new young director was either praised or criticized. The actors were well known, and a new blonde beauty from Sweden was becoming popular. Above all, the stage for the whole movie was our city, Rome. My father clearly stated that Rome was the true protagonist of the movie. Obviously I could not go, but a few days later my father called the Dolce Vita a masterpiece that one day I would have to watch. Hopefully, one day, we could watch it together.
Those two words – Dolce Vita – quickly entered the fabric of our language, our conversations, our way of talking about our city, and ourselves. Two words that magically described us, and our love for beauty and love itself, as well as our indolence and sadness. Watch the very first shots of the movie: it is Italy, it is Rome. And from those very initial images till the empty beach of the end, Rome shows itself in its constant oscillation between anxiety and inertia.

I loved almost every movie Fellini made. I loved La Dolce Vita, I did not love Amarcord, I loved La Strada, I did not love Giulietta degli Spiriti. I cannot tell why and frankly it does not matter. The movies I love, are the ones I can watch again and again. The ones I did not love, I still remember them very vividly: could I ever forget Casanova? or La città delle donne? I never liked to discuss Fellini as the author/director who had to be approved or rejected. But there were years in Italy when the question "do you like Fellini" would introduce silly conversations about the tragic, the grotesque, the absurd, the 'non political' value of his movies. I avoided those discussions. Not to mention the issue of Fellini's political positions. Non conventional in any way, he never took a clear stand. He was never perceived as a conservative, but clearly he was not a leftist either. To these days, Fellini remains the only Italian artist whom I forgive for a lack of strong and public political convictions.

He loved Rome. He was not from Rome. It was difficult for me to accept that! I felt incredulous about his place of birth. Rimini? But he understands Rome better than anyone else! Do you know what's the origin of the name "paparazzo"? It was the last name of the photographer who in La Dolce Vita works in Via Veneto and catches all the celebrities. How Roman to call someone by their last name, just like Mastroianni does in the movie.....

I loved "I Vitelloni." To this day this movie is well known to Italians but not abroad. It is a pity. One of his first movies, it is a picture about life in a small provincial town (Rimini?), with characters who dream about leaving and yet are too vulnerable and scared to abandon old places and habits.

Fellini left Rimini, and as soon as he arrived in Rome worked with big names of Italian cinema. Pretty quickly he was on his own. In 1963, he made 8 and 1/2. The following year, he won the Oscar for best director, and the movie won for Best Foreign Film. Fellini won a total of 5 Oscar nominations.

My absolute favorite Fellini's movie is 8 and 1/2, and if I had to list my favorite movies of all time, it would the first of my list. It is the ultimate movie about the creative crisis of a movie director. A movie about movie making, about cinema as a primary way to look at our lives. Other directors tried to do the same. None of them as powerfully as Fellini did, and they all paid tribute to him. Look for the interviews and articles by Martin Scorsese on Fellini. They are very interesting and revealing. One of my most precious possessions is a photograph of the set of 8 and 1/2. I found it one day in a store of memorabilia in Hollywood. Mastroianni is dancing with Anouk Aimée. His director is right behind him showing the moves and the body language he wants his actor to convey. Mastroianni cannot see Fellini but he senses him, obviously.

Giulietta Masina, Fellini's wife, looked in real life just as she did in his movies. One day, in Rome, walking in my neighborhood, I reached an intersection and stopped. Looking at my left, I saw a lovely petite lady, standing there, waiting to cross just like me. I recognized her immediately. I recognized Gelsomina! I smiled. She looked at me and smiled back. My goodness, her eyes, her candor and sense of awe and curiosity! We kept smiling at each other. I like to think that she felt and understood the true nature of my reaction.

Years later, when I was at the university, I became involved in a TV project about language and language teaching. The shoot had to take place at Cinecittà, the studios of Rome. I was there everyday for at least a week. At one point, someone said that we were very close to Federico's usual and favorite studio: theater number 6, I believe. He was shooting "La città delle donne" but not that week. I wondered around the theatre, then I saw a machinist working at the door. I asked him if I could go in. "Ma non c'è" - he said. Yes, I know, HE is not here now. But can I just see the theatre? I walked in and saw nothing but scaffolds and furniture and stuff of all kind. But I was not disappointed. I walked around and little by little I begun imagining actors and make up artists and clothes and machines and people and voices ....... and of course, Federico Fellini in the middle of all this, giving directions. I became overwhelmed by a sense of futility: the futility of all the things we say about the Fellinesque, the grotesque, the tragic, the comic, the beautiful and the ugly, the morality and the empathy. So many words wasted trying to prove that we understand and know him well. Let's just think of him giving life to his characters and let's listen to Nino Rota's score of 8 and 1/2. That music speaks better than any words and tells us the he was unique and could never be imitated.

giulianella ruggiero, Rome, Summer 2021