This city bade farewell to Federico Fellini on Tuesday in a wake he would have liked. For all of a wet, gray day, and deep into the night, mourners made the long trek to Cinecitta, the government’s sprawling film complex on the southern reaches of the capital.
Fellini’s last spotlight shone center stage on a dark wood casket that seemed too small atop a catafalque draped in blue velvet.
The props were two national policemen with red stripes down their pants and two traffic cops in white pith helmets. The backdrop to the coffin was a huge canvas borrowed from Fellini’s last movie of an impossibly blue sky dotted with gauzy clouds.
People stood pensively in darkness before the coffin. In the wings, reporters, camera operators, stagehands, sundry extras and two firefighters dressed for work witnessed Fellini’s goodby from wooden grandstands.
Fellini, who died Sunday at 73, will be buried after a funeral this morning presided over by a cardinal in Rome’s Santa Maria degli Angeli, a church Michelangelo designed.
Singly, and in small groups, mourners filed through the hangar-size Studio 5, the set for so many of Fellini’s movies. Studio 5 was Fellini’s “kingdom, his true home,” said fellow director Lina Wertmuller.
Before the coffin, many made the sign of the cross. Some wept. A few smiled.
Yes, there was a prime minister and members of Parliament. There also were polished criers, itinerant peddlers and priests, travel agents taking pictures, fellow directors, students seeking inspiration and Greeks bearing Godspeed. There were people who had known Fellini, many who wished they had and some who pretended they did. They all felt his loss keenly enough to come and say goodby.
At midafternoon, the Cinecitta gatekeeper reluctantly interrupted telephone calls and announced that 30,000 mourners had come already. Don’t write that it in a history book. But what’s in a number on a rainy day under the umbrella pines at Cinecitta when il maestro has been shrunk into a coffin shrouded in red roses in Studio 5?
Fellini’s wake would have been more Fellini-esque if he had directed it. But then, as Fellini liked to say, he never quite understood what Fellini-esque was supposed to mean.
Mostly, Tuesday’s visitors to Studio 5 were the everyday folk who were the soul of movies that won Fellini five Oscars and the adoration of cinema fans the world over.
“I’m here to pay homage to the genius who embodies the crossroads--between fantasy and reality, between melancholy and irony,” said Tommaso Ferrantelli, a middle-age businessman.
In the studio’s tented exit, ledgers, school kids’ notebooks and sheaves of paper were jumbled onto tables. Nobody passed without signing one of them. Some left messages: “Bon Voyage, simple soul of the eternal child,” Sivie Elisa Formato, a French-Italian, wrote in French.
Travel agent Pietro Alleghe brought his camcorder to record the farewell inside Studio 5. “It is a duty, a pleasure to be here. I feel great emotion before a man who made us see the true image of Italy,” he said.