Take the opening scene of La Dolce Vita (1960): A crowd of pilgrims and members of the news media arrive at a farm in search of an apparition of the Virgin Mary. Two giggling children lead them through the pouring rain to a small, pathetic tree where they claim the Virgin has appeared. People begin to fight for a chance to pray before the tree, but the rabble soon loses control, tearing apart this insignificant tree. This image of zealous idol worship sets the tone for a movie that becomes a prolonged critique of celebrity worship and the media that encourages it (the term paparazzi came from this movie).
La Dolce Vita is one of three Fellini masterpieces that the Coral Gables Art Cinema is hosting for a weekend celebrating this essential filmmaker. The other films showing include 8 ½ (1963) and Amarcord (1973), both essential films to understanding this cinema genius.
In 8 1/2, Marcello Mastroianni, also the star of La Dolce Vita, plays a surrogate for the director in what became Fellini's breakthrough in meta narrative. A film about film-making, Fellini demolishes the fourth wall of cinema, adding the clickity-clack of a projector running during a scene of actresses auditioning for parts in a movie and including an orchestra conductor waving a wand in a spa to an invisible symphony. The movie also features a running gag that takes aim at film critics who have read too much into his work, so let's leave it at that.
Amarcord is the fictitious name of a provincial seaside town that stands in for Fellini's birthplace of Rimini. Juxtaposing absurd humor and a sort of reverent admiration for everyday banalities, the Oscar-winning movie offers an indictment of the fascism that took the nation by storm in the 1930s, when Fellini was a young man. The title translates to "I remember" in the dialect of the region where Fellini grew up. However, the film is so much more than a memoir. Fellini takes into account the limits of nostalgia and the warped idealism that fuels fascism while still being attuned to the followers' humanity.
The series also includes a new hybrid documentary directed by Ettore Scola called How Strange to be Named Federico. Though it uses some archival footage, it is mostly composed of reenactments with actors featuring a meta-cinematic touch with a narrator who walks through scenes, addressing the camera. Though slight and a bit precious (no one does
Federico! kicks off with La Dolce Vita on Friday, September 25, at the Coral Gables Art Cinema. You can purchase a pass for all four films or individual films at gablescinema.com.
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @HansMorgenstern.