No director in the history of the Academy Awards has won more Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film than Italian filmmaker, Federico Fellini. He came from humble roots in comedy, developed by surviving World War II, but by the 1950s, Fellini was a respected director who not only captured the essence of Italian style through his films, but also came to be one of the most influential voices in cinema. For those new to his works, here’s a guide on where to start amongst the twenty-four feature films he directed throughout his career:
La Dolce Vita (1960)
Many newcomers to Fellini start here, with one of his most successful and controversial films. La Dolce Vita won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and gave the rest of the world a fresh perspective on the emerging luxury and style in Italy. The film follows a gossip journalist through an increasingly hedonistic week during which he not only hunts down juicy stories, but also questions his own life and morals. Deeply stylish and a grand departure from the neo-realism of his early work, Fellini’s La Dolce Vita is an ideal springboard to his other films.
It took Fellini a while to get truly autobiographical like his contemporaries, Jean-Luc Godard and Ingmar Bergman. When he launched the satire, Amarcord, he delved deep into his feelings about being a young man in Fascist Italy during WWII. The film, about a seaside town caught between highly symbolic seasons, lets Fellini unleash his frustrations with Mussolini, the war and his own escapes from the draft in a bitterly comedic whirlwind.
La Strada (1954)
This is a much deeper cut in Fellini’s canon and a more difficult film to approach. It was largely derided upon its initial release, only to gain critical acclaim as an art house classic. Though Fellini became more associated with a dream-like sense of fantasy, his start was in neo-realistic depictions of social allegories. La Strada uses a callous strongman and the women he mistreats as a grand display of the director’s penchant for hard-hitting tragedy in uniquely bizarre confines.
8 1/2 (1963)
Though this is Fellini’s widest-loved and most-awarded film, it benefits from a more complete understanding of him as a filmmaker. It follows, appropriately enough, a filmmaker as he slips out of reality and into the world of films themselves, setting the precedent for everyone from Woody Allen to David Lynch in the decades to come. It’s Fellini’s understanding of film and filmmaking at large, like a deep, contemplative breath before charging full-tilt into a long career in the business, that brought him his level of success.