Fellini’s Fantastic TV Commercials

Last month we brought you some lit­tle-known soap com­mer­cials by Ing­mar Bergman. Today we present a series of lyri­cal tele­vi­sion adver­tise­ments made by the great Ital­ian film­mak­er Fed­eri­co Felli­ni dur­ing the final decade of his life.

In 1984, when he was 64 years old, Felli­ni agreed to make a minia­ture film fea­tur­ing Cam­pari, the famous Ital­ian apéri­tif. The result, Oh, che bel pae­sag­gio! (“Oh, what a beau­ti­ful land­scape!”), shown above, fea­tures a man and a woman seat­ed across from one anoth­er on a long-dis­tance train.

The man (played by Vic­tor Polet­ti) smiles, but the woman (Sil­via Dion­i­sio) averts her eyes, star­ing sul­len­ly out the win­dow and pick­ing up a remote con­trol to switch the scenery. She grows increas­ing­ly exas­per­at­ed as a sequence of desert and medieval land­scapes pass by. Still smil­ing, the man takes the remote con­trol, clicks it, and the beau­ti­ful Cam­po di Mira­coli (“Field of Mir­a­cles”) of Pisa appears in the win­dow, embell­ished by a tow­er­ing bot­tle of Cam­pari.

“In just one minute,” writes Tul­lio Kezich in Fed­eri­co Felli­ni: His Life and Work, “Felli­ni gives us a chap­ter of the sto­ry of the bat­tle between men and women, and makes ref­er­ence to the neu­ro­sis of TV, insin­u­ates that we’re dis­parag­ing the mirac­u­lous gifts of nature and his­to­ry, and offers the hope that there might be a screen that will bring the joy back. The lit­tle tale is as quick as a train and has a remark­ably light touch.”

Also in 1984, Felli­ni made a com­mer­cial titled Alta Soci­eta (“High Soci­ety”) for Bar­il­la riga­toni pas­ta (above). As with the Cam­pari com­mer­cial, Felli­ni wrote the script him­self and col­lab­o­rat­ed with cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er Ennio Guarnieri and musi­cal direc­tor Nico­la Pio­vani. The cou­ple in the restau­rant were played by Gre­ta Vaian and Mau­r­izio Mau­ri. The Bar­il­la spot is per­haps the least inspired of Fellini’s com­mer­cials. Bet­ter things were yet to come.

In 1991 Felli­ni made a series of three com­mer­cials for the Bank of Rome called Che Brutte Not­ti or “The Bad Nights.” “These com­mer­cials, aired the fol­low­ing year,” writes Peter Bon­danel­la in The Films of Fed­eri­co Felli­ni, “are par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing, since they find their inspi­ra­tion in var­i­ous dreams Felli­ni had sketched out in his dream note­books dur­ing his career.”

In the episode above, titled “The Pic­nic Lunch Dream,” the clas­sic damsel-in-dis­tress sce­nario is turned upside down when a man (played by Pao­lo Vil­lag­gio) finds him­self trapped on the rail­road tracks with a train bear­ing down on him while the beau­ti­ful woman he was din­ing with (Anna Falchi) climbs out of reach and taunts him. But it’s all a dream, which the man tells to his psy­cho­an­a­lyst (Fer­nan­do Rey). The ana­lyst inter­prets the dream and assures the man that his nights will be rest­ful if he puts his mon­ey in the Ban­co di Roma.

The oth­er com­mer­cials, which are cur­rent­ly not avail­able online, are called “The Tun­nel Dream” and “The Dream of the Lion in the Cel­lar.” (You can watch Rober­to Di Vito’s short, untrans­lat­ed film of Felli­ni and his crew work­ing on the project here.)

The bank com­mer­cials were the last films Felli­ni ever made. He died a year after they aired, at age 73. In Kezich’s view, the deeply per­son­al and imag­i­na­tive ads amount to Fellini’s last tes­ta­ment, a brief but won­drous return to form. “In Fed­eri­co’s life,” he writes, “these three com­mer­cial spots are a kind of Indi­an sum­mer, the gold­en autumn of a patri­arch of cin­e­ma who, for a moment, holds again the reins of cre­ation.”

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