To help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini, we present a series of lyrical television advertisements made 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 (watch here) 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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Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2012.