Federico Fellini in Brazil



Considerations on the reception of the Italian filmmaker’s work

Interest in Federico Fellini's work was intense and constant in Brazil. It would be enough to remember that the filmmaker left his mark even on our language. In fact, just as in Italian, also in Portuguese, the adjective “felliniano” is dictionaryized, and is also used to refer to caricatural or grotesque situations and characters, or to suggestively dreamlike atmospheres, which refer to characteristics of his films, of Irene Ravache registered by Walter Porto, and which was recently the name chosen by Grupo Editorial Record for a new label, Amarcord, aimed at ''unusual narratives'', according to the publisher itself.

The noun “paparazzi” (more common than the original “paparazzo”) – derived from the surname of a photographer The sweet life (Dolce vita, 1959) – began to designate, also among us, a photoreporter in search of sensationalist facts about celebrities, as recorded in “Fellinianas”. The title of the film E la nave va (E la nave va, 1983) has become a widely used expression to indicate that life follows its course.

There are still other Fellinian types and moments that remained in the imagination of the common spectator: Alberto (Alberto Sordi) from The welcome (The vitelloni, 1953), when he gives a banana and mocks pedestrians who are resurfacing a road; the protagonist prostitute (Giulietta Masina) of The Nights of Cabiria (The nights of Cabiria, 1957), as we will see later; the road of life (La strada, 1954), which triggered a great commotion, which lasted throughout the day, as he confesses, in tropical truth, Caetano Veloso; Amarcord (Amarcord, 1973), with all its “inventory of emotions”, according to Irene Ravache’s definition recorded by Walter Porto.

From the point of view of film criticism, although in the 1950s there was no shortage of articles on Fellin's filmography, it was in the following two decades that interest became more pronounced. The year 1960 is emblematic, as in the festival History of Italian Cinema, held by the Cinemateca do Museu de Arte Moderna (Rio de Janeiro) and the Cinemateca Brasileira (São Paulo), the opening session of the Rio edition showed The abyss of a dream (The white sheik, 1952), while the closing session of the São Paulo edition projected The sweet life. Between 1970 and 1972, the publisher Civilização Brasileira – in the Biblioteca Básica de Cinema collection, directed by Alex Viany – published six scripts by the director: The white sheikh, The road, The sweet life, The welcome, 81/2 (81/2, 1963) e the cheat (The bin.

Another decisive occasion was the edition of Fellini visionary, which, although it only stopped at The sweet life, Eight and a half e Amarcord, can be considered a good paradigm to establish how the Italian filmmaker's work was received in Brazil. To elucidate the scripts of the three chosen films, which organizer Carlos Augusto Calil considers the director's best, the volume brought together texts from the past (by Francisco Luiz de Almeida Salles, Roberto Schwarz, Gilda de Mello e Souza and Glauber Rocha) with more recent works. contemporaries (by Luiz Renato Martins and Calil himself), offering a small overview of how the director's work was read by Brazilian authors.

Fellini visionary It also offered the translation of the three aforementioned scripts and four blocks of statements by the director – taken from Italian and French periodicals, from press-release and a television program –, partly contradicting its own objectives, since some of the essay texts chosen deviated from the main current of Brazilian criticism, largely guided by the author's interviews about the films themselves. By placing the reader face to face with the director, before facing critical reflections on him, the book did not fail to condition the understanding of Fellin's work.

Expanding the range of authors cited by the organizer of Fellini visionary – Antônio Moniz Vianna, Alex Viany, José Lino Grünewald, Sérgio Augusto, Paulo Perdigão, Jean-Claude Bernardet, Maurício Gomes Leite and Telmo Martino, in addition to those already listed –, Paulo Emílio Salles Gomes, Ronald F. Monteiro, Luiz Raul Machado, Guido Bilharino, Kátia Peixoto dos Santos, Euclides Santos Mendes, João Eduardo Hidalgo, Julia Scamparini Ferreira, Carolina Bassi de Moura, Rafaela Fernandes Narciso, Mariarosaria Fabris, Mateus Araújo Silva, Sandro Fortunato, Luiz Zanin Oricchio, Cássio Starling Carlos , Pedro Maciel Guimarães, Ismail Xavier, Renato Janine Ribeiro, Mariano Torres, many of whom constitute the references of this article. Despite this expansion, the two crucial moments mentioned above will serve as a guide in the attempt to make a small retrospective of the reception of Fellin's filmography among us, based mainly on authors from São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

In the 1960s and 1970s, critics highlighted the existence of a Fellini before his affirmation as an authorial director. For Antônio Moniz Vianna, his name, as a screenwriter, “is associated with the most significant titles of Rossellinian neorealism, as well as the best essays by Pietro Germi and Alberto Lattuada” and, as an actor, once again with Roberto Rossellini, in The miracle ( "The miracle”) – second segment of Love (The love, 1948), when a theme already present in the Roman episode of paisa (Paisa, 1946), which, according to Moniz Vianna, in another text from 1960, “would run through all of Fellin's work as dominant: the lack of communication between people”.

This communicative inability would result in isolation, a characteristic that would gain strength in the road of life, the cheat e The Nights of Cabiria, “components of a 'trilogy of solitude'”, as Sérgio Augusto (1972) pointed out, or, in Ronald F. Monteiro's term, “mystical films”, because, for the filmmaker, again in the words of Sérgio Augusto (1971 ), “moral anguish weighs more than social failures, dialectics does not compensate for the graces of anagogy”.

In an article from 1960, Paulo Emílio Sales Gomes followed this same line, also establishing “a deep kinship” with the aforementioned “The Miracle”. The opinion of Almeida Salles (1994) was no different, who, when reviewing The sweet life, at the time of its release in Brazil, and also referring to the three previous films, wrote: “The secularized sacred is the very dimension of Fellini's gaze and placed on things and beings gives them a sense of sign that transcends the raw document.”

In a cultural panorama that tended towards the analysis of social problems, Fellini emerged as a kind of outsider, for focusing on existential torments, which led to questioning his belonging to the neorealism that still dominated the Italian cinematographic scene when he began to assert himself as an author. If, when presenting the itinerary The welcome, Alex Viany stated that the director remained “consciously affiliated with the neorealist movement”, by focusing on The abyss of a dream, the critic had written: “His deepest relationships with neorealism began with the movement’s own ground zero, Rome, open city (rome open city), in 1945”.

Before him, Moniz Vianna, in the catalog Italian cinema, had already posed the problem by noting that: “Neorealist or deserter, the important thing in Fellini is the transfiguration of reality through poetry […]. La strada completes the transfiguration of neorealism through poetry or, as a French critic observes, goes to a special circle of the movement through an 'orientation towards a marvelous real', the same taken by Miracle in Milan [Miracle in Milan, 1951, by Vittorio De Sica] and It cappotto [The coat, 1952, by Lattuada], strange companions”.

Almeida Salles also, in Cinema and truth (1965), pointed to a real that, in Fellini and other filmmakers, “is no longer the real of credible cinema, nor that of neorealism. It is a transcendentalized real. A real, therefore, that, through the subtle participation of the artist, becomes the truth of the real.” Although he considered Fellini “out of neorealism”, Viany, in the presentation of the script for Dolce vita, will follow the same path as Almeida Salles, highlighting that, for the filmmaker, “the facts of life only acquire experience and validity when they pass through the filter of his fantastic imagination, when colored by his inexhaustible fantasy”.

And if José Lino Grünewald defined the director as an “anti-neorealist, not as a controversial antagonist (ex-vi admiration for Rossellini), but as a diversity of experience and tendency”, Monteiro recalled that he was “gradually replacing neorealist influences with dreamlike and baroque delirium. Fellini was never a realist: his naturalism tempered with sentimental humanism never went beyond the exteriority of the chronicle.” Even the “provincial atmosphere” and landscapes of the first works were not real: “They were simple projections”.

The emphasis on Fellini's association with neorealism weakened over time, but new researchers, such as Euclides Santos Mendes and Julia Scamparini Ferreira, took up the issue again in their academic works, without any new developments in relation to the previous authors and without convincing in their defense of a Neorealist Fellini. Meanwhile, Mateus Araújo Silva pointed out how, in The Nights of Cabiria, the director would perhaps be able to overcome the “neorealist horizon (which he was close to as a screenwriter)”, in a path that, “over the years will increasingly accentuate the dimension of the imaginary and invest in the deformation, through memory or imagination, of lived or observed reality”.

As some critics point out, the Italian filmmaker, however, also spoke with other directors. If Moniz Vianna, in 1963, stood out in 81/2 “a certain intellectualism that the author – in a way the anti-Bergman, the anti-Antonioni, the anti-Resnais – uses here as if he were, at the same time, satirizing and correcting the authors mentioned”, Guido Bilharino pointed out in the film “the influence of the cerebral Bergman of wild strawberries (Smultron stället, 1957), which, two years earlier, enchanted and upsets the world” And, as expected, the relationship with Charles Chaplin was also detected in Fellin’s work. For Grünewald: “Until The Nights of Cabiria (including such remarkable works as the Sceicco bianco, The vitelloni, La strada e The bin), it was possible to denote the direct, evident and confessed influence of Chaplin’s lyricism”.

The presence of the “tramp”, always according to Grünewald, was evident in the “simple and emotional melodic accompaniment” of the road of life and in the characterization of its protagonist – “Gelsomina, Carlitos in skirts” –, in which, however, Pedro Maciel Guimarães will find “the European equivalent of the fragile and clownish girls in Chaplin's films”. Talking about Charles Chaplin also means talking about the circus in the Italian filmmaker's filmography, as Kátia Peixoto dos Santos did in her postgraduate research, when analyzing the road of life, The clowns (I clown, 1970) e Ginger and Fred (Ginger & Fred.

Rafaela Fernandes Narciso, also, in her Master's dissertation, analyzed, from the road of life, the role of aesthetics clownish in the director's filmography. Going beyond these more evident aspects, Monteiro highlighted how the very structure of Fellini's works, from the beginning, suffered from the director's attraction to popular shows: “the fragmented construction of Fellini's scripts is close to the composition in sketches of Show circus: each episode has its own coup-de-foudre; The impact of the films always arises from the organization of the ascending curves of the dramaturgy in each isolated episode. Consequently, the conclusion must contain the climax.”

It was in this sense that Viany classified The welcome of “chronicle film, made up of somewhat disconnected episodes, which are linked to the central characters, the environment and the theme”. Cássio Starling Carlos preferred to see, in this “episodic, brief, fragmentary and serial structure” – which, in Fellini, came to replace the “traditional dramatic progression” –, a certain similarity with the structure “of the comic strips he devoured as a child”. It is in the name of this “narration technique” (according to Monteiro) that, in the final sequence of Fellini’s films, the drama is heightened – one would only need to think of the solitude trilogy, with Zampanó, who, longing for Gelsomina, “kneels on the beach, alone, at night, with the sea and the stars, and tears run down his face”,

Augustus, “the bidonista who agonizes, alone, on the side of the road where, without hearing his last murmur, the peasants who wake up at dawn pass by, without hearing his last murmur”; Cabíria and her “mirage, which, once undone, will throw her to the ground, to the earth that Fellini always uses as a basic element of purification” (according to Vianna in Italian cinema) – or the loose threads of narrative fragmentation are tied up, as in the circus circle that closes Eight and a half, when Guido, on the set transformed into a riding arena, begins to direct the show, of which, together with his characters, he will also be part.

the characters of Eight and a half can be considered a kind of summary of the types that populate the Fellinian universe, with which the filmmaker maintained a relationship that was not always cordial. Sales Gomes, in 1956, points out how Fellini, in Women and lights (Variety Lights, 1950) e The abyss of a dream, “he played with his characters, made fun of them, sometimes mercilessly”; but, little by little, she began to cast a more sympathetic look on them, already in the second work mentioned and still in The welcome e the road of lifewhile in the cheat approached his creatures with a “desperate pity” – feelings absent in Fellini's Casanova (The Casanova by Federico Fellini, 1976), when the director noted, in Bilharino’s words, the “permanent existential void” of the protagonist.

Em the cheat, according to Sérgio Augusto, “the Fellinian bestiary – farândola of the simple and crazy – found a habitat familiar”, a fact also observed by Glauber Rocha, in a text written around 1977, in relation to the films of the first phase, in which the stories “take place in poor places populated by half-starved people, crazy Fellinians wander in a horizon of misery, but are unaware of reality, they are the dream, the beauty that Fellini creates”.

And it is always Sérgio Augusto (1971) who emphasizes that André Bazin was “the first to define the homo fellinianus as 'a way of being', the opposite of character in the Saxon sense of character”. His comment echoes observations made by Roberto Schwarz in 1965 about Eight and a half: “When making the film, the director starts with the actors he has, and not with the imaginary characters. […] Guido starts from his obsessions and looks for similarities with them in actors; But between vision and actor there is an insurmountable gap.” The author also pointed out that, in the work, nothing authorized the identification between the main character and the director, although Guido's visions had been filmed by Fellini.

With this, Roberto Schwarz refuted the autobiographical component detected, with restrictions or not, by several authors in Fellin's filmography. In Brazilian reception, the issue of the director's statements about his own work is quite problematic, given that, in the main libraries, even those specialized in cinema, there is an abundance of books such as Do un film (Make a movie, 1980) or like those who collect, in several languages, the countless interviews given by Fellini, written by Camilla Cederna, Charlotte Chandler, Rita Cirio, Costanzo Costantini, Goffredo Fofi & Gianni Volpi, Giovanni Grazzini, Tullio Kezich, Damien Pettigrew , Christian Strich & Anna Keel etc.

If Luiz Raul Machado emphatically pointed out that the director's work “mixes with his life in a unique way”, Calil classified the “narrator who says I, disguised as the alter ego of Guido or Marcello” as “one of the most successful artifices by Fellini”; while Moniz Vianna and Mariarosaria Fabris wondered which character or characters the filmmaker would embody, Julia Scamparini Ferreira, based on characteristics that would shape Italian identity, inserted Fellin's work into this question, in her autobiographical opinion in a broad sense for rescuing a memory collective.

In turn, Luiz Renato Martins, following Roberto Schwarz, challenged the myth of personal memories, whether in Conflict and interpretation in Fellini: construction of the audience’s perspective, book dedicated to Fellini's Rome (Roma, 1972), Amarcord, Orchestra rehearsal (Orchestra rehearsal, 1978) e The city of women (The city of women, 1980), whether in another text about Amarcord, in which he stated that the verbal voice in Romagna dialect (mè a m'acòrd = I remember), from which the film’s title derives, “indicates the transformation of subjective experiences into objectified representations under public scrutiny. It thus opens dialogue and establishes the exposition of the past in a plural context”.

Another aspect linked to the issue of characters are the Fellinian women who so populate the male imagination. Proof of this is the song “Giulietta Masina”, which Caetano Veloso dedicated to Cabíria; a photo by Luiz Teixeira Mendes, “Noites de Cabíria – a homage to Fellini” (2017), in which, on a corner of the bohemian neighborhood of Lapa (Rio de Janeiro), the transformist Juju Pallito Azaranys reincarnated the film's protagonist; the book Fellini's Women 1950s – from Liliana to Cabíria, by Sandro Fortunato, for whom they “cannot be seen just as simple characters. […] They are more than stereotypes, they are complex. Full of details, human and true. That’s why they are so close and fascinating.” A view that coincides with that of Machado when he stated that, for Fellini, women are “a fundamental point of reference: alter egos so profoundly different that they are born as an obligatory complement for man to be truly human”: from mothers to prostitutes, passing through lovers, unattainable women, young women who “announce a possible redemption”. 

Gilda de Mello e Souza's opinion, in “Fellini's mortal leap”, written between 1968 and 1979, was quite different, as she highlighted that the director did not understand women: he was successful “when he draws marginal characters, singers of café-concert (The welcome), mentally retarded (the road of life), prostitutes (The Nights of Cabiria)”, failed when trying to analyze “a normal female psychology”, as in Juliet of the Spirits (Juliet of the spirits, 1965). As for the female figures of Eight and a half, for the author, they were not even “characters”, nor “basic types, that is, The Wife (Luisa), The Lover (Carla), The Eternal Feminine (Claudia); because the range of feminine possibilities […] is reduced to the basic opposition of the two faces of eros, to the pure and impure duplication of love, incarnated in the mother and Saraghina”.

Although she dedicated few works to Fellini's work, Dona Gilda can be considered his best interpreter in Brazil, due to her refined film analysis, something rare in works about the director. When approaching Eight and a half, she managed to demonstrate, more than other authors, why the film “is the great turning point” (as Machado defined it) of the Fellinian trajectory. For Gilda de Mello e Souza, this work could be inserted “in the vanguard of contemporary narrative” – particularly in the new novel and the cinematographic works associated with it: Hiroshima my love (Hiroshima mon amour, 1959) e Last year in Marienbad (Last year in Marienbad, 1961), by Alain Resnais, and wild strawberries –, as Fellini had constructed “a free narrative, dissolving the linear entanglement into a certain timelessness”. Consequently, cinema ceased to be “the art of the present indicative”, as what was imposed was “Guido's subjective time”, whose temporal pilgrimage “goes from the real to the imaginary”. The space, also expanded, approached that of “baroque painting, by disregarding the prison of the frame”. In this way, the “image […] has as its field the amplitude of the screen”.

The author’s knowledge of visual arts led her to envision “a scenographic sense, which was very reminiscent of Salvador Dalí” (1971) in Juliet of the Spirits, regarding which Julio Augusto Xavier Galharte suggested another parallel with Surrealism, this time with René Magritte, due to the fact that characters are portrayed from the back as in works by the Belgian painter. In his analysis of Fellini's Satyricon (Fellini-Satyricon, 1969), she was accompanied by Bilharino, for whom, in the film, “countless shots and scenes stand out […] also for their pure chromatic and pictorial aspect, exceptionally conceived and elaborated”.

According to Dona Gilda, by “setting the research on color in the painting of Herculaneum and Pompeii, therefore, in a contemporary painting of the work” of the same name by Petrônio (c. 60 AD), from which Fellini had been inspired, made “admirable the transposition that It carries out from the pictorial space to the filmic space, the transposition that it makes from the code of the word to the code of the image”.

A lesson that Luiz Fernando Carvalho demonstrated that he took advantage of, when he declared: “My motivation in cinema is moving from one state to another state. […] We only go beyond the mere technical construction of a film if we are capable of generating a fable, a dream” – words recorded by Carolina Bassi de Moura, when researching the developments of Fellinian ideas also in Tim Burton, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Guillermo del Toro and Rob Marshall.

To these names could be added those of Woody Allen, who, in Memoirs (Stardust memories, 1980), paid tribute to Eight and a half (according to Oricchio); Pedro Almodóvar, since La Agrado de All about my mother (Todo sobre mi madre, 1999) would have a similar function to that of La Gradisca in Amarcord (in Hidalgo's view); Selton Mello with his The clown (2011) and The film of mine Life (2017)[1] that would not fail to have a certain connection with The clowns e Amarcord, respectively; Taron Lexton, who, in the feature film In search of Fellini (In search of Fellini, 2017), tried to cover the various moments in the Italian director’s filmography, and “sometimes the tone is more neorealist, other times it is more dreamlike – and references to characters and scenes from his films appear all the time” (in Miranda’s opinion) .

In my opinion, David Lynch should also be mentioned, due to the overlap between the real and the dreamlike; Ingmar Bergman's Not to mention all these women (For att inte tala on all of this kvinnor, 1964), in which he parodied Eight and a half; Martin Scorsese from Dangerous paths(Mean streets, 1973), which dialogued with The welcome; Bob Fosse from the play (1966) and the film (1969) Charity, my love (Sweet Charity), which referred to The Nights of Cabiria; The bottom of the heart (One from the heart, 1982), by Francis Ford Coppola. This, in Bleak (Bleak, 2009), and Alejandro González Iñárritu, in Bardo, false chronicle of some truths (Bard, false chronicle of a handful of truths, 2022), carried out their own Eight and a half, thus expanding the picture of how Brazilian critics reflected on Fellini's work in a global cinematographic context.

Besides Luiz Fernando Carvalho and Selton Mello, there does not seem to have been a deeper dialogue with other Brazilian filmmakers: the Fellinian evocation in Days top turn it (1989) and The big circus mystical (2018), by Cacá Diegues, the exercise of rereading∕filming About nights of cabiria (2007)[2] and the titles of the road of life (1980), by Nelson Pereira dos Santos, and I remember (2005), by Edgar Navarro, are rather tributes to the Italian director, like the one Caetano Veloso also paid to him in the film Talking cinema (1986) and on the album Omaggio to Federico and Giulietta (1979), in the aforementioned song “Giulietta Masina” and, especially, in “Trilhos Urbanos”, in which he recovered certain atmospheres from the filmmaker's first works, as revealed in the world is not boring: “I was sure to sing 'Trilhos Urbanos' too, because it was necessary to put everything in the perspective of my childhood in Santo Amaro, where I saw Fellini's films for the first time and where this feeling of metaphysical recovery of lost time comes from. It’s similar to the feeling I get in these films.”

In theater and literature this dialogue was present, albeit timidly. The Fellinian comic book album Il viaggio di G. Mastorna detto Fernet (with drawings by Milo Manara) was transformed by Marcelo Rubens Paiva into the play The trip (2012), while the Broadway hit Nine (1982), by Maury Yeston and Arthur Kopit, won the Brazilian stages in Nine – a Fellinian musical (2015). If the poet Manoel de Barros, in Portrait of the artist when thing (1998), explicitly referred to the filmmaker – “One day they called me primitive:/ I had an ecstasy. / Just like when they called Fellini clown: / And Fellini was ecstatic” – as Galharte reported, Cristóvão Tezza made Fellini’s work an example of a “strongly authorial cinema”, as “we no longer distinguish one film from another; the work becomes language.”

In turn, Luiz Ruffato attributed the purpose of becoming a writer to his achievement in 1974: “When I decided to write my first narratives, some of the Fellinian premises, exposed in a more objective way in Amarcord, guided my choices. The strength of memory. The importance of banal everyday life. The fragmentation of discourse. The dream climate as a resource to exacerbate the real. The whole understood from its parts. And, above all, respect for the characters, portrayed in their deepest dignity.”

The director's work was also the subject of exhibitions such as Figurati – Federico Fellini Retrospective (São Paulo, 2004); Fellini Delirium (Salvador, 2015), another retrospective of his filmography; Fellini Circus (São Paulo, 2005), when a series of his drawings were exhibited; Tutto Fellini (Rio de Janeiro-São Paulo, 2012), which kept his memory alive, as did the film by Ettore Scola How strange to be called Federico (Che strange chiamarsi Federico, 2013), a great public success in Brazil, which allowed its lovers to miss its fantastic universe.

*Mariarosaria Fabris is a retired professor at the Department of Modern Letters at FFLCH-USP. Author, among other books, of Italian cinematographic neo-realism: a reading (edusp).

Revised version of the homonymous text published in the Proceedings of the 7th National Seminar Cinema in Perspective and XI Academic Film Week, Curitiba, 2018.


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VIANY, Alex. “Federico Fellini’s photonovela”. In: FELLINI, Federico. The white sheikh. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 1970.

VIANY, Alex. “Memories of a good life”. In: FELLINI, Federico. The welcome. Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian Civilization, 1971.


[1] Prof.’s suggestion. Luiz Carlos Sereza, in the debate that followed the presentation of this work at the 2018 seminar.

[2] Filmed in the 2nd semester of the Higher Education Course at Audiovisual-USP. From the excerpt accessed in youtube the authorship was not stated.

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