In the summer of 2015, the city of Bologna hosted in its town hall a successful exhibition titled Emilia-Romagna, terra di cineasti (Emilia-Romagna, a land of filmmakers): inspired by an eponymous essay written in 1990 by the influential film critic Renzo Renzi, who identified this region as the one “where many of the best Italian filmmakers were born and trained”, this occasion was only the latest attempt at deciphering the reasons for this land’s extremely remarkable cinematic fecundity. After all, it is a fact that Emilia-Romagna happened to be the birthplace of such innovative and important directors as Pier Paolo Pasolini, Valerio Zurlini, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Pupi Avati, Marco Bellocchio, and Bernardo Bertolucci.
We are now going to focus on the close relationship between this region and its cinema by following the tracks of some of Italy’s best-known filmmakers in a three-part itinerary to discover their hometowns. Moving through Fellini’s Rimini, Antonioni’s Ferrara, and Bertolucci’s Parma, in particular, we will visit the places which are most closely related to these great directors’ life and works while also looking at how Emilia-Romagna was immortalized on the silver screen, thus entering cinema history through their camera eye.
Our starting point in this journey is none other than the birthplace of Federico Fellini, the celebrated author of such cinematic landmarks as La strada, Nights of Cabiria (Le notti di Cabiria), and La dolce vita, among other masterpieces. Before he moved to Rome to begin the filmmaking career that would win him multiple Academy Awards and legitimize him as one of the most influential directors of all times, Fellini lived for almost twenty years in Rimini, the famous city of the Romagna coast where he was born in 1920. Located on the Adriatic Sea, Rimini has long been known as a renowned seaside resort and art city; for movie-goers from all over the world, however, it is most of all an unreal, dreamlike location belonging to our collective consciousness, if not an actual “place of the mind”: the one represented by the Maestro in his films.
In fact, Fellini had a strange relationship with his hometown: even though he actually never shot a single frame in his native city, as he told in his essay Il mio paese (My hometown) the director kept returning several times to the Rimini of his youth, but only to rebuild it and re-invent it through the cinematic eye according to his childhood dreams and memories. Ultimately, many of the city’s landmarks that Fellini’s spectators believe to be true are just imaginary places: for example, the seafront in some of the most evocative autobiographical scenes from 8½, or the Rocca Malatestiana (Castel Sismondo) reconstructed on set for the opening scene of The Clowns (I clowns), in which a boy – arguably the young Fellini – sees a circus tent set up outside his window.
I vitelloni (1953), a film about the adventures of five young men from a small town on the Adriatic, was the first of Fellini’s works to be entirely set in Rimini, at least ideally: as a matter of fact, even though the film is clearly autobiographical, I vitelloni was eventually shot in Lido di Ostia, so that none of the recognizable locations – such as the harbor, the seafront, or the station – are in fact in Rimini. Nonetheless, the film was instrumental in shaping the public’s understanding of this city’s real spirit.
The work in which Fellini’s hometown plays the most important role, however, is undoubtedly Amarcord (1973), whose title came from the Romagnol dialect for the phrase “I remember”. Recalling his youth and childhood memories once again twenty years after his first cinematic efforts, for this film the Maestro decided to literally rebuild 1930s Rimini inside Rome’s Cinecittà studios. Most notably, the director included a reconstruction of the legendary, five-star Grand Hotel Rimini, the setting for many memorable episodes of Amarcord which in fact originated from young Fellini’s daydreams about this majestic and mysterious building. But other distinguishing features of the city are important as well in this film: for example, the Piazza Cavour main square – with its Arengo Staircase (where the Fascist gymnastics display takes place) and its Fountain of the Pine Cone (on which a peacock rests during the snowfall scene) – or else the Fulgor Cinema, where Fellini saw his first film ever (Maciste all’inferno) and Amarcord’s protagonist, Titta, tries to make an advance on Gradisca, the village beauty.
In recent years, the city of Rimini decided to honor his most famous resident by giving his name to the local airport, as well as to the park and square surrounding the Grand Hotel. In addition, the local people are working for the realization of a museum dedicated to Fellini. But all in all, almost every corner of Rimini already hints at this great director’s profound genius: from his native house on Via Dardanelli No. 10 to the cemetery which is the final resting place of his wife Giulietta Masini and him, lying under the monument by the well-known artist Arnaldo Pomodoro, who was inspired by Fellini’s film And the Ship Sails On (E la nave va). There are two more places, however, in which the Maestro’s presence is particularly felt: the streets along Rimini’s seafront, which carry the name of Fellini’s films, and especially his beloved fishermen’s village of Borgo San Giuliano (located outside the ancient city walls, just beyond the Roman Bridge of Augustus and Tiberius), on whose houses’ facades are colorful murals reproducing scenes and characters from his greatest masterpieces.