food in the arts


Italians live a king-sized life. Wild gestures, exuberant proclamations of love, and a lust for life – the Italian spirit is best expressed in maestro Federico Fellini’s cinematic masterpieces. One of the world’s most renowned filmmakers, Fellini’s work is unabashedly Italian, narrating stories of provincial and urban characters with poignancy and insight.

Fellini captured a raw humanistic element in his portrayals of typical Italian life. His films, no matter what the subject, have a carnival-like atmosphere. The Italy that Fellini portrayed was in the clutches of fascism, and life was nothing like a carnival. But his over-the-top and optimistic storytelling belied the horrors that the second world war created and left behind. Instead the audience is treated to a cast of lovable characters in picturesque settings, entertaining us with their loves, lives and laughter.

If the Italian zest for life stems from anything, it’s their
food. It’s the one cuisine that has made its way around the world in the form of pizza, pasta and gelato in hotel restaurants. Rich, tangy, fresh, and bursting with flavour, an Italian dish is easily comparable to Fellini’s films. Food stands for more than just sustenance for Fellini. In real life, he was a true connoisseur, revelling in daily meals of antipasti, spaghetti, ravioli, veal, potatoes, chard, salad, fruit, coffee and of course wine.

In the semi-autobiographical film, Fellini's Roma Indie & Art House Comedy Movies & TV), Fellini charts the progress of a young man moving from his native village to the bigger city of Rome. Themes of modern alienation abound, but it is Fellini’s open enthusiasm that takes centre stage, even if it expresses itself ironically. It is a strangely sensual film that’s wonderfully portrayed by the images of the many characters constantly gorging themselves on food.

Nights at Calibria

Food becomes a political expression in Fellinis
Nights of Cabiria. It’s a poignant film about an innocent prostitute in a squalid area in Rome. There is a scene that was actually inspired by real life, when Fellini once spotted a man distributing food to the poor. However, the Church forced Fellini to cut it from the film, since it was thought that only the priests should be doing such work.

Fellini - Roma                   

The most evocative and memorable food scene is from one of Fellini’s lesser known works, Satyricon.
It’s a wild fantasy tale, about two men travelling across the Roman Empire. It’s a surreal explosion of senses, which is best portrayed in one of cinema’s most effective pictures of food. A massive banquet is laid out. A new cook has roasted a whole pig but forgotten to gut it. It’s gutted immediately, sausages and intestines spilling out in macabre glory.

Fellini - Satyricon

The Romans did have a penchant for the exotic - larks' tongues, pikes' livers, cocks' crests were regular features in ancient Roman banquets. Today’s spread is a lot more sedate – platters of antipasti, delicious sauces for pastas, fresh salads dripping with aromatic oils and of course gallons of wine. Pastas and pizzas are just the tip of the iceberg – Italy’s regional variety of
cuisine is mind-boggling and equally delicious.

Let Fellini inspire you to live an Italian-sized life, served with love and joie de vivre.
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Four Films From Fellini - La Dolce Vita ; I Vitelloni ; 8 1/2 ; Giuliette Degli Spiriti [DVD] (