This year marks the birth centenary of one of the greats of World Cinema, Federico Fellini. While many argue that his films lack the depth and philosophical quality seen in the works of other European auteurs like Bergman or Tarkovsky, there seems to be a consensus among most cinephiles that no one captures the pulse, the beat, and the throb of life, quite like the Italian master.
Fellini’s films are a celebration of life and the vitality of the human spirit. One of the reasons he is revered so much is because he presents the different facets of human nature and its varying shades through a completely objective and non-judgmental lens. The characters in his films are mostly ordinary people consumed by worldly longings and generic desires; drawn in flesh and blood. Perhaps, this is why even the masses could easily connect with his films; enabling him to taste commercial and critical success in equal measure. Three of his masterpieces, I Vitelloni, La Dolce Vita, and Juliet of the Spirits, are now streaming on MUBI:
1. I Vitelloni (1953)
This early work in the director’s filmography was his first critical and commercial success. A recipient of the Silver Lion (Best Director) Award at the Venice Film Festival, Fellini crafts a semi-autobiographical portrait of five young men drifting through life, dreaming of adventure and escape from their small coastal town. Drawing on memories from his youth, Fellini brilliantly interlaces humor with drama/melodrama to create endearing characters and moments that stay with the viewer even after the movie.
One of his most imitated works, I Vitelloni has inspired a generation of filmmakers who regard the Italian Master as one of the best. Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets (1973) and George Lucas’ American Graffiti (1979) are some of the notable films that have drawn inspiration from the film.
2. La Dolce Vita (1960)
The biggest hit of his career, La Dolce Vita catapulted Fellini to international mainstream success—ironically, by offering a scathing critique of the culture of stardom. A look at the emptiness beneath the seductive lifestyles of Rome’s rich and famous, the film follows a showbiz journalist (Marcello Mastroianni) on his quest for love in the dark world of glamour. This Palm d’Or (Golden Palm) winner at the Cannes Film Festival put a spotlight on the deepening decadence of contemporary Europe and served as a prophecy for how star-obsessed our society would become. The character ‘Paparazzo’, who is a news photographer in the film, was the inspiration for the infamous word ‘paparazzi’ used for intrusive reporters.
Often cited by many critics and film magazines as Fellini’s best film, La Dolce Vita is widely regarded as one of the best European films of all time. Interestingly, 2020 also marks the 60th anniversary of the film.
3. Juliet of the Spirits (1965)
This fantasy drama was Fellini’s first feature-length color film and won him the Golden Globe Award for the Best Foreign Language Film. Partnering with his wife and muse, actor Giulietta Masina, the film is about the visions, memories, and mysticism that help a middle-aged woman find the strength to leave her philandering husband. Juliet of the Spirits is a kaleidoscope of immense feeling and hallucinating journey of self-discovery, portrayed brilliantly by Masima.
It is said that Fellini dropped LSD around the time he concocted this film. That may be one reason for the movie to feel so psychedelic. The Woody Allen film Alice (1990) is loosely adapted from it.
Apart from these three gems, there are quite a few masterpieces from the legendary filmmaker that are available on other streaming platforms. Academy Award winners La Strada (1954) and Amarcord (1973), and Fellini’s crowning glory 81/2 (1963), are available for viewing on YouTube.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.