The Films And Filmmaking Style Of Federico Fellini, Explained

Italian neorealism is a distinct film movement that arose in the 1940s and 1950s. Neo-realism had a great impact on cinema and gave more artistic freedom. Neorealism often expresses the cynical perspective of society and focuses on post-World War II Italy’s poverty and social distress. There were a few directors who brilliantly carried on the legacy of this film movement, and Federico Fellini was one of them. 

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Fellini’s work can be distinguished because he had an individuality. More specifically, it is said that he made his own world based on France’s poetic realism. Because of this, he got the name “Felliniesque” for being different.


The Journey to Being Independent

From starting his career as a caricature artist and a part-time screenwriter to making his own world of cinema, Fellini’s journey was inspirational. He started his journey by working as a scriptwriter for Roberto Rossellini. In his debut, Luci del varietà, a collaboration with Lattuada, and his other directional collaborations, Fellini was bound by rules, but finally, he made his first independent cinema, The “White Sheik” (1952). But through his critically acclaimed movie, “I Vitelloni” (1953), he began to express a little fantasy. 

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The USP of Federico Fellini’s films was the ups and downs of the working class of society. But his work could be distinguished because the raw material of his film was ‘Dream.’ By combining fantasy and reality, he made “La Strada,” “8 1/2,” and some wonderful films.

The Italian neorealism movement talks more about the harsh reality of society and the disappointing truth that we have been forced to accept, and Fellini’s films have also followed the rule. In his earlier films like “White Sheik” and “I Vitelloni,” we have seen that he focused on the ultimate real life of lower and middle-class families. In his film, “White Sheik,” we saw his realistic efforts to show a woman with her obsession for the soap opera hero named White Sheik. There’s nothing surreal about it, but also some absurd and dreamlike cinematography has been shown in this film.

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Reality and Fantasy

As time progresses, we see Fellini crossing all the boundaries and starting filming in his own way. The strange combination of his dreams and reality begins to be shown in his films. 

In Fellini’s movie “La Strada” (1954), we see Gelsomina’s sad life. She is separated from her family and sold to a circus man, Zampano. When Gelsomina leaves the man and returns to the city, she sees a huge shadow falling over the buildings; this is the shadow of a rope walker who is sitting on a chair on the rope and eating spaghetti. Gelsomina from the crowd looked up at him with surprise. It was a so-called Italian concept that Fellini depicted in his movie, which says that life is a circus. It was a real event that happened in the film, but through the strange portrayal, Fellini builds a surreal world with all the elements of reality.

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Another Fellini film is “Nights of Cabiria” (1957), where we see his most realistic outlook. He perfectly depicts the vulnerability of humans and how we are just pawns in the game of our lives. Although Federico’s wife, Giulietta Masina’s (Cabiria), wonderful acting and facial expressions gave the movie an uncanny touch and uniqueness from Fellini’s catalog,

In his films like “La Strada” or “Nights of Cabiria,” we see real events taking place in the film to form a surreal milieu, but in films like “8 1/2” (1963) and Juliet of the “Spirits” (1965), Fellini has emphasized dream sequences.

“8 1/2” is Fellini’s most remarkable movie, where he portrayed the flashbacks and dreams of the protagonist, which were nothing but the real memories and desires of his life.

A notable feature of a ‘Fellinian’ film is the sarcastic approach. We find some sarcastically strange narrative patterns in most of his films; like in “8 1/2,” we see the protagonist, Guido, played by Marcello Mastroianni, fantasizing that his house is a haram full of his ex-lovers or women whom he loved, while in reality, we see his relationship with these women is just the opposite. 

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Fellini’s films also focus heavily on autobiographical factors, and “8 1/2” was the ideal example of this. Fellini has repeatedly commented that it would be unfair to call his films autobiographical because he had invented his life specifically for the films. One important thing in Fellini’s portrayal is color. In “8 1/2,” we see Guido’s directional block with the use of black and white nuances. The brightness of the white light against a black background brings the flaws in Guido’s character into clear view.

We can’t judge Fellini’s brilliance with just “8 1/2.” Because in “8 1/2,” we have only seen a mix-up of reality and fantasy, but in ‘Juliet of the Spirits,’ he has played with fantasy. It’s better to say that in this film, we see imagination and reality walking side by side. ‘Juliet of the Spirits’ shows a wild representation of fantasy; using this rich color treatment makes it bright and surreal, like a dream. 

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Apart from Fellini’s amazing storytelling and dreamy camerawork, one of the other main elements was his music. In “La Strada,” Zampano remembers Gelsomina when he hears a baby humming. Thus, specific music for a specific person helps us to remember that character. Also, in “Nights of Cabiria,” we hear a bit of playful but somber music playing at the end, which is so symbolic of the situation of Cabiria’s heartbreak. This music also cheered her up, saying that we’re also lost in the path of our life like Cabiria.

Academic awards have multiple times nominated him for best international feature film, and he has received an honorary academic award. Federico Fellini was a visionary artist with freedom of expression. We can say that he has humanized cinema, because what is a human without dreams and a little fantasy? Fellini started his journey with neorealism, but he made his own place in history by seeing beyond the boundaries and his humanizing storytelling. Through his films, he has told the stories of people we try to stay away from, like a sex worker, a womanizer, or a failed filmmaker, in a way that makes us feel sorry for these people. Fellini’s dreams and fantasy have always been the main elements of his films, but he never made them irrelevant and illogical. His world of surrealism derived from the very reality of human life, which is equally relatable even in the present era.

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See More: Filmmaking Style Of Alfred Hitchcock, Explained


Poulami Nanda
Poulami Nanda
Poulami Nanda hails from a medical background, yet her journey is to cross the boundaries of medicine and survive in the cinematic world. The surrealistic beauty of cinema and art has attracted her from a very young age. She loves to write poems, songs, and stories, but her dream is to write films someday. She has also worked as a painter, but nothing attracts her more than cinema. Through her writings, she wants to explore the world of cinema more and more and take her readers on the same ride.

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