An Italian cinema legend: Federico Fellini was born 100 years ago | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 20.01.2020
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An Italian cinema legend: Federico Fellini was born 100 years ago

Few filmmakers in the history of cinema are as famous as Federico Fellini. He is considered Italy's most popular directors, with his films having garnered countless awards. A tour of his iconic works.

He never worked abroad. Federico Fellini, born in Rimini on the Adriatic Coast on January 20, 1920, did not want to leave his homeland. Rome ultimately became the second home of the film director. Both there and in the Italian countryside, he created and invented his very own world, letting his characters live and die there. And with his "truly Italian" films, Fellini has inspired audiences around the world.

Fellini began his work at the end of the 1930s as a cartoonist, then wrote for the radio, worked as a gag writer and then finally began in film, initially as a screenwriter.

His collaboration on the screenplay for the neo-realist classic Rome, Open City (1945) by Roberto Rossellini was immediately rewarded with an Oscar nomination. Many more would later follow: eight nominations and four Oscars in the best foreign language film category.

ANITA EKBERG (1960) (Imago/ZUMA Press)

A famous Fellini scene: Anita Ekberg in Rome's Trevi Fountain in 'La Dolce Vita'

Five years later, Fellini made his first film, together with director Alberto Lattuada: Variety Lights.

The White Sheik (1952) was the first film he directed alone. One masterpiece after the other then followed.

His first films were in black-and-white, had a hard realistic core, and focused on figures on the fringes of society. But unlike his fellow countrymen who remained true to neo-realism, Fellini quickly added fantasy and fairytale, poetic and playful elements to his cinematic cosmos.

With La Strada, Fellini brought poetry to dreary everyday life

This became evident with La Strada, Fellini's first world success. The circus, minstrels, magic and enchantment: The fairground environment became one of his trademarks. 

Fellini's films celebrate nostalgia and a yearning for the joys of childhood. Idlers, strays and petty criminals populate his films, just as prostitutes, saints, mothers and outcasts do. Larger-than-life women, or men searching for the meaning of life: Fellini put them in the spotlight.

Marcello Mastroianni (1963) (picture-alliance/United Archives/IFTN)

Marcello Mastroianni in '8 1/2'

Fellini's 8 1/2  from 1963, his autobiographically inspired film about a director in crisis, would also usher in a new artistic phase in his work. From then on, his films became more fragmentary and sometimes even more playful, but certainly more opulent.

Grotesque scenarios, fantastic color tableaux, visual richness

Whether bringing the old and the new Rome and its people in front of the cameras, whether following on the heels of a cynical Casanova in Venice or, such as in Amarcord, focusing on childhood and youth again: Fellini's image tableaux, his grotesque arsenal of figures, his opulent camera angles always offer great cinema, sophisticated, but also always very entertaining and original. You can recognize a Fellini film at first glance.

Film still from Fellini's Casanova (picture-alliance/United Archives/Impress)

Donald Sutherland as Fellini's 'Casanova'

The fact that he often worked with the same people contributed to this. He provided the greatest roles for his wife Giulietta Masina and his alter ego Marcello Mastroianni. He relied on a few outstanding cameramen, and his composer Nino Rota became a world star by working with him. One could call it a Fellini family, a community firmly rooted in Italy, but which told stories that fascinated the whole world.

Passionate about Italy

Hardly any other director from a non-English-speaking country has been able to garner so many Oscars. Hollywood rolled out the red carpet for Fellini several times, inviting him to shoot in the US. He always refused; Rimini and Rome were enough for him, especially because he found the best work surroundings in Cinecittà Studios in Rome.

When Fellini died in the autumn of 1993, it was an event of national importance that stirred the entire country: Italy had lost its probably greatest film director, the world of cinema one of its most popular filmmakers. But even 100 years after his birth, his work still seems both fresh and contemporary, offering new elements to discover with each screening.

Watch video 13:03

A tribute to Federico Fellini

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