This April, the IFI will celebrate the remarkable career of Federico Fellini. This retrospective features twelve of his films and is an opportunity not to be missed, to savour these feasts for the senses on the big screen. 

The season will commence on Tuesday, April 4th with the 1952 film The White Sheik (1952) and finish on Sunday, April 30th with City of Women (1980). It will include the two Oscar titles, La Strada (1954) and Amarcord (1973) as well as his first film in colour, Juliet of the Spirits (1965), and La Dolce Vita (1960), one of the most esteemed films ever made. 

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Fellini’s body of work is one that remains hugely influential, even as his name has become an adjective for describing a certain style of filmmaking. International directors as varied as Stanley Kubrick and Spike Lee have cited his work as an inspiration, not to mention the generations of Italian filmmakers from Bernardo Bertolucci to Paolo Sorrentino in whose work his influence is readily apparent. 

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Fellini (1920-1993) started his career in film as a writer, coming to prominence during the post-Second World War neorealist movement in Italian cinema with contributions to the screenplays of Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City (1945) and Paisan (1946). 

Having also gained experience as an assistant director on these two films, his first directorial credit was shared with Alberto Lattuada in 1950’s Luci del varietà (Variety Lights). As he began his solo career, Fellini left his neorealist roots behind and forged a more picaresque style that nonetheless retained great compassion and empathy for his characters. Inspired by his experiences with psychoanalysis, his work became more lushly visual as he explored aspects of memory and sexuality, giving full rein to his imaginative flights of fantasy. 

The films featured will be: 

Co-written by Michelangelo Antonioni, Fellini’s solo debut as director features newlyweds Wanda (Brunella Bovo) and Ivan (Leopoldo Trieste) arriving in Rome from their small town for their honeymoon. However, Wanda has a secret agenda for their time in the big city. A devoted fan of ‘The White Sheik’, the central character in a popular series of comic books illustrated with photographs rather than animations, she is determined to meet her idol. However, not all goes to plan as Wanda fends off the Sheik’s advances and Ivan covers for his wife’s absence in this sweet and entertaining romantic comedy. The film marked Fellini’s first collaboration with Nino Rota, and features Giulietta Masina as Cabiria, the prostitute around whom Fellini would build a later film. 

87 mins, Italy, 1952, Digital, Subtitled, Black & White

I Vitelloni saw Fellini move towards a more personal style of filmmaking after the critical and commercial failure of The White Sheik. A group of five provincial young men live lives of indolence as they talk about their plans for the future. Fausto (Franco Fabrizi), their de facto leader, is an incorrigible philanderer, cheating repeatedly on his pregnant wife. Riccardo (Riccardo Fellini) and Leopoldo (Leopoldo Trieste) harbor artistic aspirations, though neither has the discipline necessary to follow through. Alberto (Alberto Sordi) is quietly content being supported by his mother and sister, while only Moraldo (Franco Interlenghi) seems to realise how limited his life has become. Winner of the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival, the film set the stage for Fellini’s subsequent successes. 

107 mins, Italy, 1953, Digital, Subtitled, Black & White

Winner of the first Oscar for Best Foreign Language film, a category Fellini would win on a further three occasions, the simple and poetic La Strada begins with the young and beautiful Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina) being sold by her mother to a brutish street performer, strongman Zampanó (Anthony Quinn). She becomes his assistant, her naïve eagerness to please met with nothing but cruelty. The two encounter another street performer who goes under the title of ‘the Fool’ (Richard Baseheart), who becomes a rival for Gelsomina’s affections when the three find themselves employed by the same traveling circus. However, the Fool’s constant needling of Zampanó, combined with the jealous and thuggish nature of the latter, ultimately results in tragedy. 

108 mins, Italy, 1954, Digital, Subtitled, Black & White

Giulietta Masina, Fellini’s wife and muse, reprises her brief role in The White Sheik in Nights of Cabiria, a film co-written by Pier Paolo Pasolini. It follows prostitute Cabiria on a series of misadventures as she circulates through the city. Cruelly mistreated by her pimp, who robs her and pushes her into a river, leaving her to drown, Cabiria yearns for true love and an escape from her life. While under hypnosis at a magic show, she reveals these dreams, only to be cruelly mocked by the laughing audience. However, one man approaches her, and begins to court her, and she dares to dream again in a film that advocates for hope and optimism even in the face of pain and horrific cruelty. 

117 mins, Italy-France, 1957, Digital, Subtitled, Black & White

Fellini’s first film in colour sees Giulietta Masina once again take centre stage as the middle-class housewife who suspects that her husband is cheating on her. Her feelings of neglect are exacerbated by his thoughtlessness on the eve of their wedding anniversary, when rather than celebrating with the quiet, romantic dinner she had planned, he arrives home with a group of friends. One of the group leads the gathering in a séance, and it is in the course of this that Giulietta first speaks with the spirits who appear to her throughout the remainder of the film, offering advice and encouragement, not all of which is useful or helpful to her, leading to an ambiguous ending upon which not even the director and his star agreed. 

138 mins, Italy-France, 1965, Digital, Subtitled

One of the peaks of Fellini’s career, and one of the most esteemed films ever made, La Dolce Vita follows episodes in the life of gossip columnist Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni). Fellini paints Marcello’s world as one of hedonistic excess. Even as his fiancée Emma (Yvonne Furneaux) attempts suicide, he remains committed to his lifestyle, wandering from one party to the next, and from one woman to another, while his desire for a more serious literary career fades under the glare of the lights. Filled with iconic moments, most unforgettably Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg wading in the Trevi Fountain, and the origin of the term ‘paparazzo’ for celebrity photographers, this endures as an astonishingly rich and often breathtakingly beautiful film. 

175 mins, Italy-France, 1960, Digital, Subtitled, Black & White

Fellini’s fourth and final winner of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, the somewhat autobiographical Amarcord (the title is a neologism for ‘I remember’ contrived from his childhood vernacular) is a tumult of stories of life over the course of a year in a village near Rimini in the early 1930s, often featuring lustful teenager Titta’s (Bruno Zanin) attempts to woo unattainable local beauty Gradisca (Magali Noël) and the more earthy, buxom local tobacconist. Underneath the Chauceresque humour is a current of melancholy that elevates the ribald to the sublime, whether in frequently beautiful set pieces or in the realisation that the film takes place in an Italy in thrall to Fascism, which would shape the country in such terrible ways in the coming decade.

125 mins, Italy-France, 1973, Subtitled, 35mm

Loosely based on the work of Petronius, Satyricon was described by its director as a science fiction film, despite its setting in ancient Rome. As its source material survives only in fragmentary form, so the film itself is a succession of fragments, even ending mid-sentence. It begins with friends Encolpio (Martin Potter) and Ascilto (Hiram Keller) arguing over possession of slave Gitone (Max Born), who is lover to both men. When Gitone chooses Ascilto, Encolpio is bereft. As the story moves on, Fellini presents audiences with a series of stories of masters and slaves in which myth and reality are blurred. It is perhaps the film in which the director’s fascination with excess is most indulged, featuring scenes of uncharacteristic violence and sex.

129 mins, Italy, 1969, Digital, Subtitled

Fellini’s love letter to the Italian capital is a semi-autobiographical depiction of his own move from his hometown of Rimini to Rome as a young man, and the delights he discovered there that would come to feature so heavily in his films. Told in a series of loose vignettes that give the film the feel of a visual scrapbook, it features a number of the director’s trademark settings, such as brothels and vaudeville shows, mixed with unusual, almost quasi-documentary sections such as that depicting a snarling traffic jam that help ground the city even as breathtaking imagery elevates the city into something timeless and mythical. Even for a filmmaker as personal as Fellini, Roma is a wholly transparent gaze into the director’s mind.   

119 mins, Italy-France, 1972, Digital, Subtitled

  • (OTTO E MEZZO) Sunday, April 23rd (15.15)

Famously inspired by his own case of ‘director’s block’, became one of Fellini’s most acclaimed films, regularly appearing on lists of the greatest films of all time compiled by organisations including the British Film Institute and the Vatican. His final film in black and white, it stars Marcello Mastroianni as Guido Anselmi, a famous director struggling to complete his latest project, in which he has lost interest. Distracted by his immensely complicated personal life, Guido takes refuge in both memory and fantasy. A film of inestimable influence, and one of the great films about filmmaking, has provided inspiration for directors from Rainer Werner Fassbinder to Bob Fosse to Charlie Kaufman, and remains a towering achievement in world cinema. 

138 mins, Italy-France, 1963, Digital, Subtitled, Black & White

At a time when he was suffering personal and financial difficulties, Fellini agreed to take on this project on the life of Casanova for producer Dino de Laurentiis, despite his personal abhorrence of the legendary lothario. The lead role was eventually filled by Donald Sutherland who noted at the time, “I’m not playing Casanova. I’m playing Fellini’s Casanova, and that’s a whole different thing”. Sutherland was absolutely correct in that while the film follows the character on a series of assignations, they are depicted as joyless, as is Casanova himself, a portrait entirely at odds with his mythic stature in this heavily stylised and often overlooked film.

163 mins, Italy, 1976, Digital

  • CITY OF WOMEN (LA CITTÀ DELLE DONNE) Sunday, April 30th (15.15)

City Of Women saw Fellini reunited with Marcello Mastroianni, who had so often portrayed the director’s on-screen alter ego. He plays Snàporaz, a man travelling by train who attempts to seduce the woman sharing his carriage. Following her when she disembarks, he is led on a series of surreal encounters in which he is forced to confront his relationships with and attitudes towards women. Typically of the director’s later work, the restrictions of a linear narrative are sacrificed for something more free-flowing, a series of vignettes that sees him working without inhibition in a film that the Wall Street Journal described as “a decidedly original mixture of nostalgia, poignancy, and joy that is unmistakably Fellini’s own.”

139 mins, Italy-France, 1980, Digital, Subtitled

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