A friend of il maestro offers light but not warmth

Federico Fellini
October 26, 2007

Tullio Kezich is chief film critic for the Milanese daily newspaper Corriere della Sera . He is also a playwright, screenwriter and was a personal friend of Federico Fellini for the last 40 years of the director's life. His study of Fellini's life and work, Fellini, La vita e i film , appeared in 1987. The present volume is a revised and expanded version of that book, sensitively and fluently translated by Minna Proctor.

Fellini died in 1993. Kezich has taken the opportunity to bring his book up to date, covering the last dispiriting years of the once-feted director's life when project after project came to nothing, and those films that were made - Intervista, La voce della luna - received a lukewarm response at the box office. His final work, in 1992, consisted of three commercials for Banca di Roma.

Kezich has also felt able to be a little more frank about some of the less admirable aspects of Fellini's character - his indolence, womanising and self-glorification - although his evident affection for the man prevents him inflicting more than the mildest of flesh wounds. In essence, he remains starstruck, as the final sentence of his introduction makes clear: "The book you are holding ... aspires to be the ship's log for this mysterious and glorious existential itinerary."

Still, Kezich does puncture a few of the myths that Fellini wove around himself, as much through the seemingly autobiographical elements in his films as through his own remarks. The accounts of sadistic treatment he received at school at the hands of the Padri Carissimi, as vividly recreated in 8 1/2 , turn out to have been borrowed from his brother Riccardo; Federico never even attended the school. Nor was his departure from provincial Rimini for Rome in 1939 quite the proudly solitary existential gesture it appears in I vitelloni . Fellini did indeed leave his hometown for the capital, but accompanied by his doting mother and his sister.

The value of Kezich's book lies above all in these biographical elements. Despite the book's title and the author's eminent standing as a film critic, Kezich has nothing very revealing to say about the films themselves, and he spends far more time recounting the background to the productions. Still, this does lead to some amusing roman à clef revelations: in 8 1/2 , for example, the producer Mezzabotta (played by Mario Pisu, a favourite actor of Fellini's), and his far younger girlfriend and protégée are intended as caricatures of Carlo Ponti and Sophia Loren.

Similar nuggets of gossip are scattered throughout the book, which is never less than thoroughly readable. But Kezich largely sidesteps any serious consideration of the chief stumbling-block of Fellini's work - why, after La dolce vita and 8 1/2 , his films grew increasingly flabby, unfocused and self-indulgent. Readers looking for a critical overview of Fellini's oeuvre should look elsewhere - for example, in Peter Bondanella's The Cinema of Federico Fellini .

Even considered as biography, though, one sizeable gap remains at the heart of this book - the absence of Fellini's own voice. Given that Kezich was his friend for more than 40 years, and that the first version was written while the director was still alive and lucid, it seems odd, to say the least, that Fellini is almost never quoted verbatim.

Kezich quotes directly from interviews Fellini gave, from writings such as his book Fare un film , from his friends and colleagues; he tells us how Fellini felt on this occasion or that, or about such-and-such an actor or writer or fellow director; but of Fellini's own comments or memories, nothing. For all the evident warmth and affection of Kezich's account, it leaves a strangely impersonal taste.

Philip Kemp is a freelance writer and film historian who teaches film journalism at Leicester University and Middlesex University.

Federico Fellini: His Life and Work

Author - Tullio Kezich
Publisher - Tauris
Pages - 446
Price - £14.99
ISBN - 9781845114251

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