Feting Fellini: French museum highlights Italian master's work

JOINING 'LA GRANDE PARADE': A still from the 1960 film
JOINING 'LA GRANDE PARADE': A still from the 1960 film "La Dolce Vita" is featured at the Jeu de Paume. (Christoph Schifferli Collection Via Bloomberg)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Bloomberg
Sunday, November 8, 2009

PARIS -- Federico Fellini, once viewed by some as a mere farceur, has become a classic. The Jeu de Paume is honoring the Italian film director with a vast exhibition, aptly named "La Grande Parade."

Processions, masquerades and clowns are leitmotifs in his movies. At age 7, Fellini ran away from boarding school to follow a traveling circus. Although the adventure soon came to an end, the circus remained a lifelong obsession.

The show at the exhibition space in the Tuileries Gardens doesn't attempt to trace Fellini's life chronologically. That's a wise decision, given his tendency to constantly re-imagine his past. Instead, the exhibits -- photographs, posters, magazines, movie clips and Fellini's own drawings -- are grouped around themes.

The first, "Popular Culture," refers to the director's professional beginnings: Born in 1920 in the coastal town of Rimini, he moved to Rome in 1939, making a living as a gag writer and cartoonist for a humor magazine. In 1944, when the Allies liberated Rome, he opened a store supplying funny portraits to the U.S. clientele.

In "The White Sheik" (1952), his first solo feature, he gently mocked the popular press he knew so well: A romantic young woman falls in love with a hero of the "fumetti," comic strips that used photos instead of cartoons.

Another section, "City of Women," examines Fellini's relationship with the opposite sex. While married to the petite Giulietta Masina, who appeared in seven of his movies, he not-so-secretly fantasized about more curvaceous women.

In "La Dolce Vita" (1960), the buxom Anita Ekberg wades into Rome's Trevi Fountain, followed by an amorous Marcello Mastroianni, Fellini's alter ego. In "8 1/2 " (1963) and "Amarcord" (1973), the same overripe characters reappear as Saraghina and Gradisca.

An amusing photo shows the British actor Anthony Steel, then Ekberg's husband, chasing a paparazzo during the shooting of "La Dolce Vita," the very movie that invented the name for that kind of intrusive photojournalism in the role of a photographer pal of Mastroianni's character. (In Fellini's native dialect, "paparazzo" means mosquito.)

The last section of the show is the most surprising. In 1961, Fellini started psychoanalysis with Ernst Bernhard, a Jungian, who encouraged the talented draftsman to keep an illustrated journal of his inner life.

Fellini did so, for 30 years. Two volumes of his "Book of Dreams" are presented here amid other documents relating his personal mythology. The colorful sketches demonstrate that his nighttime fantasies belonged to the same bizarre world filled with oversize women that we know from his movies.

"Fellini, la Grande Parade" runs through Jan. 17.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company