Federico Fellini, 73, the highly acclaimed Italian movie director whose pictures blended nostalgia, fantasy, satire, sentiment and dreams into a highly personalized and uniquely surrealistic style of cinema, died of cardiac arrest Oct. 31 at a hospital in Rome.

He underwent major heart surgery in June, had a stroke in August and spent the last two weeks in a coma.

He was best known for such motion pictures as "La Dolce Vita" (1960), "La Strada" (1954), "8 1/2" (1963) and "Amarcord" (1974), all of which were considered spectacular artistic triumphs. But he also was known for periods of flamboyant and colossal failures that sometimes made it difficult for him to find financial backing for his efforts. "Amarcord" was his last movie to make a profit.

Mr. Fellini, who was known as "Il Mago," the magician, won Oscars for "La Strada," "Le Notti di Cabiria" (1957), "8 1/2" and "Amarcord." He won another Oscar, a special award for lifetime achievement, in March. He also was awarded an honorary Oscar by the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1985.

He was said by critics to have been one of the leading practitioners of cinematic art, a superb and imaginative storyteller who created films replete with rich, powerful and often grotesque images that captivated, dazzled, delighted, fascinated, shocked and scandalized moviegoers around the world.

Although expected, Mr. Fellini's death plunged Italy into national mourning. Television and radio interrupted programs to report the death of "Il Maestro."

"An immense void remains in the richness of Italian art," Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro said in a message to Mr. Fellini's widow, actress Giulietta Masina, who starred in several of his films. Mr. Fellini died a day after their 50th wedding anniversary.

"Italy will remember Federico Fellini as its great poet," Italian Prime Minister Carlo Azeglio Ciampi said.

Mr. Fellini's name became known throughout the cinematic community with the release of "La Dolce Vita," a controversial, disturbing and brilliant portrait of decadent and dissolute post-World War II Roman high society. The picture drew strong condemnation from the Vatican, which said it should have been retitled "The Disgusting Life," instead of "The Sweet Life." By contrast, Jesuit sociologist John Navone called it the "most Christian film in years." Others have described it as a groundbreaking study in alienation.

Starring Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg and Anouk Aimee, the film is considered a classic of modern cinema, with a cult following all its own.

Its initial sequence shows a statue of Jesus, arms outstretched, flying over the rooftops of Rome suspended from a helicopter.

This is followed by seven loosely connected episodes in which Mastroianni, playing a news reporter, covers the activities of a profligate Via Veneto cafe set while searching for meaning in his own life. In one of the film's most memorable scenes, Mastroianni is lured by Ekberg into a sensual midnight wade in the cold waters of Rome's Trevi Fountain.

In each episode, Mastroianni is accompanied by his loyal and relentless photographer, Paparazzo, a name that now appears in dictionaries as synonymous with aggressive street photographers.

Mr. Fellini was born Jan. 20, 1920, in the town of Rimini on Italy's Adriatic Coast. At the age of 12, he ran away from home to join a circus, but his distraught parents notified police who found him.

As a young man, he studied in Bologna and later in Rome, then worked for a period as a proof boy and caricaturist for a magazine in Florence. Later, he returned to Rome, where he continued working as a caricaturist, sketching patrons at a restaurant, including U.S. soldiers.

After World War II, he worked as a scriptwriter and gagman for film directors Roberto Rossellini and Alberto Lattuada, then began directing films on his own.

One early film, "I Vitelloni" (1953), told of the postwar experiences of five listless young Italian men who seem to be wasting their lives. That was followed by "La Strada," which was said to have been drawn from Mr. Fellini's life, including his running away to join the circus.

It was about the world and people of poverty-haunted carnivals that inhabit the highways and byways of Mediterranean Europe, but it also has been interpreted as a symbolic manifesto on human rights and women's liberation.

Starring in the picture was Mr. Fellini's wife, who also appeared in other Fellini films such as "Le Notti di Cabiria" (Nights of Cabiria). That picture told the story of a streetwalker who suffers one calamity after another but keeps coming back for more.

Beginning with "La Dolce Vita," Mr. Fellini's films were said to have become increasingly autobiographical. "8 1/2" has been described as a journey into the director's stream of consciousness. Like "La Dolce Vita," it starred Mastroianni, who is often described as Mr. Fellini's cinematic alter ego. "Amarcord" was a fantasy remembrance of his childhood, consisting of affectionate, surreal and sometimes raunchy stories. The film also is remembered for two of his most compelling images: a peacock spreading its tail in the village square against the falling snow and a giant ocean liner, with lights ablaze, looming out of a nighttime fog.

It was during the 1950s, 1960s and the early 1970s that Mr. Fellini was at his peak, but he continued working through the 1980s. His most recent film, "Voice of the Moon," opened in Italy in 1990. In 1987, he directed "Intervista," which he described as "A Director's Notebook."

Other films included "Casanova" (1976), "Juliet of the Spirits" (1966), "City of Women" (1979), "Variety Lights" (1950), "The White Sheik" (1952), "Fellini Satyricon" (1969), "Roma" (1971), "And the Ship Sails On" (1983) and "The Clowns" (1970).

To varying degrees in each of his films, certain of Mr. Fellini's lifelong fascinations are reflected, his preoccupation with sex and love and the relationships between men and women, for example, or clowns and scenes from the circus.

"I always direct the same film," Mr. Fellini once said. "I can't distinguish one from another."

On the movie set, Mr. Fellini was said to have been a figure of temperamental extremes, capable on any given day of closing down the operation in a rage and sending everyone home, then greeting them the next morning with sweetness and cheer.

"It's like life, you know," Mr. Fellini once said. "You have a nice time; you have an angry time. It depends. Usually I am not the kind of director who likes to scream. I like my work. I like my crew."

The making of one of his movies was a spectacle in itself, with huge crowds showing up for casting calls, hoping that the great director would find them attractive enough for one of his films.