A BAMPFA retrospective, Federico Fellini at 100, begins with the artist’s solo directorial debut and runs through May and includes the Italian writer-director’s early movies.
Federico Fellini’s flamboyant moviemaking style, which wove the surreal logic and garish colors of dreams into the finely crafted fabric of emotional realism, inspired its own word: Fellinesque. The term evokes, in particular, his stunningly ambitious 1960s masterpieces and grotesque ’70s fantasias. Perhaps inevitably, those works overshadow the profoundly moving yet less sensational films he made in the 1950s. One of the joys of the BAMPFA retrospective Federico Fellini at 100, which begins Jan. 16 with the artists’s solo directorial debut The White Sheik (1952) and runs through May, is seeing the Italian writer-director’s early movies.
The young Fellini was a cartoonist and journalist who entered films as a writer. Among his other credits, he co-wrote Roberto Rosselini’s powerhouse neo-realist sagas Open City and Paisan (both screening in February). When Fellini moved behind the camera in the years after World War II, his fascination with the interplay between life, performance, and illusion (as practiced by circus and stage folk, and the rest of us) revealed itself. Variety Lights (Jan. 19), co-directed with Alberto Lattuada in 1950 and set in a vaudeville company, exposed the gulf between lofty aspirations and harsh reality. The White Sheik (Jan. 16) strikes a farcical tone in its portrayal of a small-town bride who spends a day of her Roman honeymoon pursuing the seductive star of her dreams. With I Vitelloni (Jan. 25), the 1953 study of aimless underachievers set in the filmmaker’s hometown of Rimini, Fellini looked back without sentimentality. The following year, Fellini achieved his first great international success with La Strada (Feb. 1), the heartbreaking fable of a childlike, expressive waif (Giulietta Masina, the director’s wife) sold to a loutish traveling showman and strongman (Anthony Quinn). Fellini’s centennial commands celebration.
Federico Fellini at 100, Jan. 16-May 17, BAMPFA, 2155 Center St., Berkeley; 510-642-0808, BAMPFA.org.