Federico Fellini

It gets difficult to come up with more ways to describe movies I love, so I’m gonna get into some movies I don’t. Federico Fellini is kind of the epitome of the European film artist. Some of those guys add new techniques or new emotions movies and they ruin it by telling only stories about boring, annoying, boring, smug, boring guys. Each film is very personal so they can brag about how much they hate their free and worldly lives. Fellini has all of that, and doesn’t even have the benefit of being cool since he’s so sentimental.

When your biggest fans are filmmakers, it makes sense that your enduring works would be the weepy homages to artists. Maybe that makes it hard to give this guy a fair shake after seeing only those most critically popular films. Or maybe if film nerds wanted more people to watch Fellini they should suggest more enjoyable choices first. If you need to watch a boring movie five times and read a book about it and go to film school to understand its genius, then it’s a technical exhibit, not viable popular entertainment.

La Strada

A traveling strongman recruits helpless young Gelsomina to be his clown assistant. She tries to find her value and meets others who think she is more valuable than she’s being treated.

Fellini considered La Strada his most autobiographical work, proving that not all famous artists have to be interesting people. The plot is just the bleak yet still uninteresting personal lives of street performers. A thin plot could be fine if you’re going for style over substance, but the only style here is the realistic total lack of fun of being a destitute nomad. I mean could you at least give us a break and make the circus performances entertaining??

If I didn’t anticipate good acting I probably wouldn’t have noticed it because the content is so distracting. Half the screen time is purposefully hammy in-movie performances or the girl meekly trying to avoid attention while something bad happens. By my count she does one or maybe two surprising and brave actions, and they both go south before you even have time to hope they work out. I felt bad for her by the end but she’s introduced as someone whose sister has just died so probably could’ve saved some time there and just told me her life continued to be bad. Yeah it’s realistic, and thanks Federico for letting filmmakers I enjoy know about realism, but I cannot recommend that anyone watch this unless you think the idea of a sad clown is really profound.

Nights of Cabiria

A spunky prostitute named Cabiria tries to find love but has a bad time.

This one was sold to me as one of the more watchable of Fellini’s hits. It has some moments of life and a mercifully eventful plot but wow is it slow. Everything that happens takes forever and every conversation repeats the same idea like four times. All I took from it is that miscreants should be excused because life is hard.

La Dolce Vita

Journalist Marcello is torn between two lives, one in the sleazy, free-wheeling nightlife of celebrity gossip writing and the other as a respected husband and writer.

So basically this Marcello guy sucks hard. I can enjoy a villain or a scoundrel with a heart of gold but Marcello is a scoundrel with a heart of blank space. He kinda just mopes around being kind of interested in any way to give his life direction. People try to win his favor, he uses them and/or tries out their lifestyle for a bit, and then either it goes badly or he just doesn’t commit to it. He learns nothing and no one changes.

On the plus side, it held my attention and I care about it enough to dislike it. A different type of person might deeply relate to Marcello, and I don’t necessarily mean I dislike those people when I say I hope I’m never one of them. I think many admire that Fellini was able to steer every aspect of production towards showing the feelings of the characters. I just wish that feeling wasn’t just being resigned to an empty life filled with regrets.

Famed film director Guido suffers from writer’s block and tries to avoid people who pester him to come up with something great. His thoughts about his life turn into a series of dreams and flashbacks.

In this stage of his career Fellini was really into studying dreams and the collective unconscious. He also was apparently very into humblebragging. Here he shows us how tiresome it is for everyone he knows to rely on his genius. He also imposes a bunch of his sexual fantasies and hangups on us. It concludes in Guido directing all his loved ones in a group dance as part of an outdoor circus and it’s even cornier than that sounds.

I think directors love this movie just like young guys love their friend’s scraggly beard, trying to convince each other the world wants more of this. Audiences don’t all go into theaters longing to study the director’s mind and personal life but there are accolades to be won for pretending that they are.

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