Francesca Fellini remembers her film-director uncle Federico
Francesca Fellini recalls happy days spent with her uncle, the Italian director Federico Fellini, in 1972 and 1985
Both of these photos of me with my uncle were taken in Rimini, federico’s birthplace and the town where I lived as a child. It was rare for him to visit us. he moved to Rome aged 19 and we tended to travel to meet him either in his apartment t here or in his magical villa in fregene, which was hidden among acres of ancient pines.
federico was the most private person I’ve ever met. from his portfolio of glamorous films, one might expect that he spent his life dashing from one party to the next, graciously accepting awards en route, but he hated t he limelight. When he had screenings or awards to collect – he won five Academy Awards during his lifetime – he would of ten send his wife Giulietta Masina (pictured). Be it Venice, Cannes, New York: he’d ship her off in his place.
A dazzling actress, The New York Times famously nicknamed Giulietta ‘the female Charlie Chaplin’. to me she was simply Aunt Giulietta: warm, funny and an excellent chef. to federico she was a muse. Watching her in the grips of emotional turmoil in La Strada – the first film of federico’s I ever watched and my favourite of his to this day – ignited in me an admiration that has never been exting uished. one day I would be glued to my television screen, mesmerised by ‘the famous Giulietta’, the next she’d be serving a delicious home-made pasta and she was my ‘Zia Giulietta’ once more.
the photo of me on federico’s shoulders was taken in 1972 while he was writing the screenplay for Amarcord, a comic recollect ion of his childhood. My aunt and uncle were crazy about me. their only child had died shortly after he was born and, marred by this tragic experience, they came to see me as one of their own. the only rule federico insisted upon was that we never talk about film. I was happy to comply.
While we never discussed his work, I was fortunate enough to witness his genius on set. he was a visionary. Before writing his screenplays he would always draw the characters and, to the poor casting director, he would specify ,‘ I want these exact people .’ on these to fA mar cord I remember watching him re create pre-war Rimini in the Cinecittà studios outside Rome. Is at silently, not daring to say a word le st I disrupt his alchemic handling of the cast. every detail of the film – the hair, the make-up, the characters, not just the actors but all the extras – passed through his hands. he never let a thing slip.
today’s cinema owes a lot to my Uncle federico’s fer tile imagination and incandescent passion for film. In his later years, he joked that one of his proudest achievements was his contribution to the Italian language–fell i ni esque .‘ My mummy in Rimini would be very proud of me,’ he once said. ‘Because in my life, I became an adjective.’ — Interview by Robbie Hodges The stage adaptation of La Strada is on at The Other Palace, London, until 8 July (0844 264 2121; theotherpalace.co.uk)