Situated along Emilia-Romagna’s eastern shores, the town of Rimini draws huge summer crowds eager to populate the modest coastal town’s seaside promenades and capacious beaches. Villas and resorts erected to accommodate the seasonal swell of imported beachgoers occupy the skylines that lie both to the north and south. But the summertime, and the profitable reverie that the city hosts, must come to an end. Who, or what, remains during the hibernal months that lock the sea under gray horizons?
Unbeknownst to many of its summer inhabitants, Rimini was the birthplace of Italy’s most celebrated director, the larger-than-life Federico Fellini, whose prolific career earned him international acclaim. His slice-of-life realism articulated incisive critiques of Post-War Italy’s social conditions, and the grandiose forays into the phantasmagorical and carnivalesque that defined the latter half of his oeuvre captured the circulating values, desires, and collective fictions of the Italian imagination. In the off-months, the legacy of Fellini has made the town of Rimini a coveted destination among devoted admirers who seek to understand the landscape that produced such a beautifully singular and singularly beautiful artist.
With the support of Emilia-Romagna’s Ministry of Culture, Rimini has mobilized a considerable amount of money and effort to monumentalize Fellini and his work, much in the same vein as Bergman’s Fårö or Elvis’ Graceland. The recently inaugurated Federico Fellini Park skirts the sandy edges of Rimini’s northern beaches, a statue casts a shadow of Fellini’s likeness during the right time of day along the Marecchia, and throughout the town bakeries hotels and cafes all bear the namesake of the now deceased maestro. His ghost permeates and reinscribes the town itself: the beaches bear an uncanny resemblance to the seaside abode where we first meet Gelsomina in La Strada, the gloomy mist that drapes over the water in the late evening is indistinguishable from the blanketing fogs of Amarcord and I Vitelloni, and so on. But the implication of Fellini does not suffice. Surely one of cinema’s greatest contributors and pioneers is deserving of a more ceremonious commemoration.
The most appropriate elegy is of course the viewing of the filmography itself. But such an undertaking cannot be demanded of the weekend sightseers who, perhaps unfamiliar with Fellini and his work, may require some inertial nudge. Furthermore, there is a rapacity among those who are familiar with Fellini to cultivate a deeper understanding of the spiritual and cultural underpinnings of Fellini’s life that were in turn prismatically refracted through his films.
But how does one represent the animus of such a resonant and epiphanic body of work or the life of their enigmatic creator? The opening of the Fellini Museum in August of 2021 is the latest and boldest attempt to do so.
The Fellini Museum is not a single location but is instead an entire environment dispersed across several buildings and public spaces. The 15th century Castel Sismondo has been reoutfitted as an interactive and immersive exhibit that functions as a cinematic cornucopia containing fifteen rooms that each engage with different dimensions of Fellini, his films, and his legacy. It is undoubtedly the centerpiece of the Fellini Museum. La Piazza dei Sogni (Plaza of Dreams), shrouded in a fog meant to recall the transatlantic voyage of Amarcord, is bordered by a veil of water that reflects the edifice of Castel Sismondo and Teatro Amintore Galli. Further along the plaza is a 17m golden, illuminated circular bench reminiscent of the circus rings at the end of 8½, a convivial public space that, much like the film, celebrates a communal solidarity and equanimity. One can stroll from Castel Sismondo across the Piazza dei Sogni to the other major indoor exhibition space, Palazzo del Fulgor, along a pathway of sound that weaves voices and music contained within (and inspired by) the films of Fellini. Palazzo del Fulgor is a historic movie theater immortalized in the film Amarcord but more importantly was the theater Fellini himself attended in his youth. It has recently been restored and screens a rotation of Fellini’s filmography as well as other contemporary releases. Palazzo del Fulgor is the most recent addition to the Fellini Museum, utilizing three floors to conjure a perennial interpretation of Fellini, locating his legacy fits in the wider landscape of film art. Next to the entrance of the Palazza is a jesmonite statue of a rhinoceros on a small boat, a reference to the film E La Nave Va and the main symbol of the Fellini Museum.
The exhibitions in Castel Sismondo employ material installation pieces, projectors that fill the walls with various video excerpts, and text elements that help contextualize the spaces. Immersive soundscapes cohere the disparate elements and gestalt in a multimedia and multisensory exploration of Fellini. The contents of the fifteen rooms are as follows:
Palazzo del Fulgor’s exhibits provide contemporary reflections on Fellini, and more abstract ruminations on the significance of his films. The Cinemino is a small theater programmed with interviews with celebrated directors and film scholars that reinterpret his themes on diegetic, critical, and discursive levels, as well as other vignettes that frame the scope and magnitude of Fellini’s career. The Room of Words is a soundproof standing space with overhead speakers that project the voice of Fellini contemplating himself and his work. This abstract exhibit interlaces several audio excerpts of Fellini grappling with the meaning of his life and the significance of his efforts as a filmmaker. The House of the Magician reveals the mystical aspects of Fellini’s work, and his propensity to expand his poetic range through studies of esoteric, occultist, and mythic texts. The Moviole allows its attendees to inter-splice and remontage excerpts of Fellini films, underscoring the continuity of his craft across several decades. Attendees also have the opportunity to explore the museum’s repertoire of letters, posters, testimonies, and drawings of Fellini via the digital archives.
The Fellini Museum beckons its visitors to enmesh themselves within the inestimable work of Federico Fellini and recognize that these films have unraveled the antinomies of our reality. These works bridge the divides between realism and fantasy, between the sacred and the profane, and between tradition and contemporaneity. As such, Fellini, and this magisterial space crafted to celebrate him, proffer more than intellectual or spectatorial stimulation, rather, an apprenticeship to finding one’s lust for life.