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Federico Fellini (1920–1993) created a body of work so distinct and instantly recognizable that there’s an adjective bearing his name: Felliniesque. One of the most decorated directors in film history—including four Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and top honors from the Cannes and Venice film festivals—he has been an influence on generations of filmmakers. This complete retrospective includes the 21 features directed by Fellini, along with three short films he made for anthologies, all of which have been digitally restored in 4K.
Fellini began his career as a caricaturist. He later entered the film industry as a screenwriter, working within the much-lauded Italian Neorealist tradition—most notably cowriting Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City (1945) and Paisan (1946)—before eventually creating a cinema entirely his own as a director. While his early films share Neorealist traits, with straightforward narratives and realistic portrayals of ordinary people and their struggles, they also quickly introduced Fellini’s trademark preoccupations. His lifelong love of the circus and the whimsical, carnivalesque theater is on full display in Variety Lights (1950), about a struggling vaudeville troupe, which he codirected with Alberto Lattuada, and La Strada (1954), about the plight of a childlike, clownish woman who performs circus acts. Fantasy has also guided his characters in dreamlike scenarios: The White Sheik (1952) follows a woman’s outlandish pursuit of a romantic hero straight out of a comic strip, while a jaded tabloid journalist’s escapade with a glamorous starlet is as surreal and fantastical as it gets in La Dolce Vita (1960), a film that takes a sharp look at elite society, marking another turn in Fellini’s trajectory.
It was with 8 1/2 (1963) that Fellini fully exorcised established cinematic conventions. His self-referential masterpiece, about a film director’s struggle with creative block, switches freely between past and present, reality and dream, creating a delirious, stormy dreamscape. Known for his keen interest in Jungian psychoanalysis, he would journey further into the hallucinatory mind with Juliet of the Spirits (1965), about a woman’s path to self-discovery through dreams and visions. Autobiographical and deeply personal threads run throughout his oeuvre, most obviously in I Vitelloni (1953) and Amarcord (1973), inspired by his upbringing in Rimini, a city on the Adriatic coast. The characters brought to life by Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita, 8 1/2, and City of Women (1980) can all be viewed as manifestations of the director himself.
The consistency Fellini achieved was also a result of his enduring collaborations. The actors Mastroianni and Giulietta Masina come to mind instantly—if Mastroianni acts as Fellini’s alter ego, Masina represents the dreamer in him. Nino Rota’s stirring music carries a life of its own, and forms the backbone of Fellini’s cinema. His key writing partners included Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano, and Brunello Rondi, who contributed to some of his most celebrated works. And Cinecittà’s Rome soundstages provided Fellini with a home base and a malleable dream machine that allowed him to actualize his imagination with no need for compromise.
Organized by La Frances Hui, Curator, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art, and Camilla Cormanni and Paola Ruggiero, Cinecittà.
Federico Fellini is part of the Federico Fellini 100 Tour, a series of centennial tributes to Federico Fellini (1920–1993), which travels to major museums and film institutions worldwide, coordinated by Paola Ruggiero and Camilla Cormanni, Cinecittà. All films have been digitally restored by Cinecittà, Cineteca di Bologna, and Cineteca Nazionale, with the exception of Nights of Cabiria and The White Sheik, which have been restored by L’Immagine Ritrovata and La Dolce Vita which has been restored by L’Immagine Ritrovata and the Film Foundation.