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To Be Experienced and Not Watched: The Cinema of Federico Fellini Films

Updated on October 11, 2016

A Great Director Offers a Unique Viewing Experience

What is it about the films of Federico Fellini that make them so enjoyable to the fans that appreciate his work? Many will look for an overtly intellectual answer to this question or mire the answer in deep introspective forms of film criticism. In his lifetime, Fellini outright rejected any approach to examining his films in such a way. He considered such approaches to be overly analytical and thoroughly unnecessary.

Of course, many great works of cinema criticism have been written about the virtuoso director. While delving into critical analysis has its merits, it might simply be best to view the films in an experiential manner.

That means just watch the top Fellini films. Well, you really don't "just watch" these intriguing works of cinematic art.

The Experiential Journey of Fellini

Fellini described his conception of a film as a “journey, adventure and an odyssey.” The words he used were/are apt ones. The narrative structure of numerous Fellini films unfold in a strange narrative-but-not-a-narrative way. That, among other reasons, makes the auteur director's work so compelling.

The style of Fellini films certainly did not follow the common conventions of cinema and his auteur fingerprints frequently reflected the presence of surrealism within realism. This might seem incomprehensible, but when you watch his films through the eyes of his characters, you will notice their detached otherworldly witnessing to the events that unfold in front of them. While coherency can suffer at varying points of the typical Fellini narrative, the viewer can just enjoy the journey as it moves towards an eventual conclusion.

Welcome to the world of Italy's greatest director.

The Road Traveled By Fellini

Federico Fellini may very well be one of the greatest directors in world cinema. Sadly, he has also become one of the more forgotten directors. The notion that he would become forgotten would have been considered an outrageous notion during his height of success which lasted from the 1950s to the early 1970s. Yet, outside of serious fans of foreign films, cinema history and the legacy of classic Italian motion pictures, Fellini does not gain the wide fanfare so many other directors do.

Fellini was not a director of Hollywood blockbusters. He filmed incredibly stylized personal films that were effective to those that found Fellini movies appealing. While many may have heard of Fellini during his heyday, many of those same filmgoers might never have bought a ticket to see one of his films.

Those wishing to enjoy something unique and different may wish to invest some time watching a few of the great director's classic works. La Strada, La Dolce Vita and 8 ½ are considered his most seminal works as well as the best Fellini films. The documentary I Clowns may be the better introduction to Fellini although it is atypical of his work. Since it is less esoteric, the style of Fellini can be enjoyed while watching a much more linear event.

In the Shadow of Neorealism

Contributing to the uniqueness of Fellini's cinematic works was that the emerged in the shadow of Italian Neorealism, a film movement rooted in depicting how the “common person” of Italy lived. This was a style of cinema that went to almost painful lengths to capture realism through sometimes incredibly slow pacing. It could be said that one film or art movement can beget another that builds on it or creates a movement far removed from it. To a strange degree, Fellini borrowed aspects of neorealism but combined it with his own unique sense of surrealism. Again, a Fellini film is more of an adventure that needs to be experienced and through the experience the audience will eventually (or hopefully) understand the actual narrative the film is presenting.

For those that are fans of Fellini movies, there really is no reason to criticize the surrealist elements. After all, it was the uniqueness of Fellini's work that draws so many to the films in the first place. Rather than worry about the narrative structure, it is best to concentrate on the themes which emerge through the presentation. It is the thematic elements that make his films most rewarding to view.


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