MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Sergei Varshavchik) -What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words "genius of the cinema"? For most people the inevitable response is "Federico Fellini."
He never gathered thousands of extras to re-create battles that had changed the world. You never see star wars or blood-curdling shipwrecks in his films. Yet the man who would be celebrating his 90th birthday on January 20 if he lived to this day won five Oscars, the Golden Palm at Cannes, the Golden Lion at Venice, the Grand Prix and the Golden Prize at Moscow, the Golden Globe and the Honorary British Film Academy Awards.
What was his magic, then? I think it was his unique style - a subtle blend of comedy and drama, the grotesque and the poignant truth, the sublime and the trivial, all underlain with benign irony. All his films were semi-autobiographic tales. Again and again, he revisited the carefree world of his childhood, infecting the viewer with the spontaneity of his perceptions.
Amarcord, the name of one of his best-known films, translates from the Romagnol dialect as "I remember." It is the story of a boy growing up in Rimini, Fellini's hometown, under Nazis.
He first saw a circus show with his parents at the age of seven. That left a lasting impression, especially the clowns. His later dream of filming them came true in 1970 with the documentary The Clowns, for which he and his crew roamed circuses in Paris, Rome and Munich, interviewed their stars, and re-created memorable performances. That was not the only occasion on which he dealt with the circus. The cranky clown or the clownish crank is a constant presence in Fellini's films.
A Jack-of-all trades under Mussolini - newspaper columnist, cartoonist, insurance salesman, typesetter, shop window designer, and gagman for the radio and the cabaret - Fellini came to the film world after the Allied liberation of Italy. Together with Sergio Amidei and Roberto Rossellini, he scripted Rome, Open City, the glorious harbinger of Neo-Realism, which won the Golden Palm at Cannes.
His baroque mind clashed with Neo-Realism, which demanded the utmost verisimilitude, preferred outdoor filming to studio work, and had little use for his refined modernism. Fellini's star shone its brightest after 1955, when he made his most acclaimed films, with their meditating and reminiscing hero.
The bitter-sweet obsession of creativity, its exhilarating joy and merciless heart-searching, was one of his leitmotifs. His aspirations were materialized by Marcello Mastroianni, his cinematic alter ego, who found the best form for the kaleidoscope of bizarre acts and sensations overcoming Fellini's seemingly fulfilled and successful characters.
In La Dolce Vita, highly accomplished journalist Marcello luxuriates in the jet-set, but is haunted by a longing for a more serious and purposeful life. In 8 1/2, famous director Guido Anselmi loses all interest in a science fiction film he is making about the world's rescue from nuclear disaster. Mastroianni plays Fellini himself, desperate in an outwardly happy life at the peak of an inner crisis. A mingle of reality, surrealistic fantasies and childhood flashbacks, 8 1/2 epitomizes the helpless apathy and shame of "a director who no longer knows what film he wants to make," as he described it later.
The charisma of the director and the leading actor makes the fanciful, disorderly film unforgettable. Its magnetism glues your eye to the screen whatever shot you start from. When I first saw it, I was late for the show, and started with Part Two. I stayed for the next show to see the beginning - and still, my perception of the film as a harmonious whole was unbroken.
The road is Fellini's another leitmotif. It stands for a sharp turn in the life of a lost, unwanted soul, as in La Strada, Juliet of the Spirits, and Nights of Cabiria. Giulietta Masina, his wife and muse, found a superb form for it.
One of the world's greatest cinematic classics, Fellini died in October 1993, at the age of 73, the day after his 50th wedding anniversary. Italy was overwhelmed with bereavement. Thousands lined the streets and highways as the funeral procession moved from Rome to the family sepulcher in Rimini.
Giulietta died five months after he was gone.
"Dreams are the only reality," Fellini said. Fortunately, we can see his fascinating dreams again and again.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.