Magic Fellini!

By Javier Lopez Iglesias (Translation from Spanish)


Nothing is more real than a dream. Federico Fellini (Rimini, 1920 – Rome, 1993) made that appointment his own through a series of films that mix the dreamlike with the true, the real with the magical, to build one of the most fascinating cinematographic ensembles in history. Just celebrated the centenary of his birth, the documentary Fellini of the spirits, by Anselma Dell'Olio, illuminates through unpublished material, images of his tapes and interviews with those who treated him, his most hidden and mysterious part. Wizard. Magic Fellini!

Because today, the collective imagination delimits the fellinian adjective when referring to what is related to the director and describes the artistic and social, aesthetic and political universe of the one who established a new way of telling the world from dreams and from the perspective more personal, even grotesque, than his fantasies and memories.

In few directors the term passion makes more sense than in those who liked to describe themselves as “passionately in love with life with all its consequences”. And among these, the consequences, played an essential role throughout his existence everything that he himself defined as "mystery", alluding to the invisible world, to the tireless search for other possibilities, other dimensions, other trips... to the relentless curiosity for everything that can blow up the spirit and the lesser known areas of the mind.

In that environment, in that fog that determines diffuse limits between what is and what is not, Fellini moved like a fish in water: “Often I don't know if what I tell really happened to me or if I made it up. Or perhaps I imagined it so long ago that I already assume it as if it were a total truth that it happened to me and I lived.  

Following these words, Dell'Olio's documentary, now premiering in Spain, is more than timely, delving into the invisible and supernatural world of the five-time Oscar winner.

Produced in 2020, the film collects extraordinary archive materials, fragments of his films and interviews with his most direct collaborators and friends. His relationship with the philosopher Jung and with the shaman Gustavo Rol; his complex relationship with women; his assiduous attendance at seances; the admiration he arouses in colleagues such as Terry Gilliam, the Oscar winners Damien Chazelle (La La Land: The City of Stars) and Willam Friedkin (The Exorcist) or the intimate friendship that united him for life with the musician Nino Rota, author of the soundtrack of many of his films.

On January 20, 1920, the first son of Urbano was born in Rimini, a city on the Adriatic coast in northeast Italy, a traveler who traded food products -cheese and coffee-, with a reputation as Don Juan, about whom Fellini told a history that time demonstrated product of his imagination. It is the one in which during the funeral of his father a group of women who cried inconsolably appeared. Those women were some of the lovers he had had throughout his life and who were unable to forget him.

The family

Between truths and fantasies, the fact is that Fellini idealized his father by portraying him as the father of Marcello Mastroiani's character in La dolce Vita. Regarding his mother, the director defined her as strict and fervent Catholic, traits that marked the education of her three children, to the point that none of them had keys to the family home until they were twenty years old and they were forced to return every day before half past seven in the evening.

In the atmosphere of rural Italy at that time, the one that little Fellini lived in, religious fervor mixed with a whole world of superstitions and legends that led to fear of witches and other imaginary beings to whom supernatural powers were attributed. On that stage he treasured the materials that would later, transfigured, establish his unmistakable cinematographic imagery.

"That iron education forced me to build, from the imagination, freer worlds", would say who in another of his autobiographical stories recounted that when he was eight years old he had fled his city with a circus. However, none of his family and childhood friends recognized that episode as true.

It would be with his paternal grandmother, Francesca, with whom the little one would maintain a deep relationship that would mark him for life: "I couldn't imagine life without her," he wrote. “My grandmother always wore a black scarf on her head; She seemed like Sitting Bull's companion... She has graced my childhood, and my life, like a legendary character. She was a magnificent patron, that is, she knew how to lead, command, bear burdens, govern and dream… She has been an example, a point of reference that has guided me throughout my career; of all my life”.  

From drawing to screen

At the age of twelve, Fellini was already sending drawings and stories to magazines in Florence and Rome, which he signed under different pseudonyms. But he would have to wait a few years to see his first creations published. In 1937, at the age of seventeen, he got a job as a journalist in Florence at the humorous weekly 420, named after the deadly long-range German cannon. That was the gateway to his march to Rome where, seeking his fortune as a caricaturist and draftsman, he settled in January 1939. Gone was his youth and Rimini, the city that amalgamates endearing, unconnected, also crazy memories that forged in different times in three jewels such as The useless (1953), La Strada (1954) and, very especially, in 1973, in Amarcord.

It will be from the early forties when the cinema occupies the main plane in his life. He entered that industry as an occasional actor and screenwriter to sign as a director his first film Luces de Variety, in 1950. From that moment and over four decades, as recorded by the history of the big screen, the Fellini universe was shaped in twenty-odd unforgettable proposals. There they are, to mention just a handful: The Nights of Cabiria; the sweet life; Eight and a half; Satyricon; Giulietta of the spirits; Rome; The Clowns; Casanova; And the ship goes; Ginger and Fred and The Voice of the Moon, with which he closed production in 1990.

Due to a stroke, Fellini died in Rome on October 31, 1993. That day, a paparazzi (a term coined by the director when he called the photographer accompanying Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita a paparazzo) sneaked into the hospital room where he lay and photographed him. As a sign of respect, no media outlet published those morbid images.  

His entire world, the one that generated that cinematographic treasure, is Fellini's meat of the spirits. A documentary that opens the lesser-known doors of the universe of the director who wrote that “directing cinema is like commanding the crew of Christopher Columbus, who always wants to go back”. Skipping his own words, Federico Fellini, always forward, embarked us on magical journeys that lead to unforgettable stories and ports.