Fellini's Fate

A New Film Pursues the Mystery Behind the Influential Director’s Last Comic Tale

Filmmaker Chelsea McMullan’s emphatic new short documents the surreal myths surrounding Federico Fellini’s infamous unmade film Il Viaggio di G. Mastorna Detto Fernet (The Journey of G. Mastorna called Fernet), the story of a man living unknowingly in the afterlife. The avant-garde director described the project as his life’s curse, and legend has it that a magician once told Fellini that if he made the picture, it would be the last thing he ever did. Premiering at September’s Toronto Film Festival, Deragliamenti (Derailments)––an exclusive edit of which we present above––explores the tribulations surrounding the prospective movie and the La Dolce Vita director’s decision to produce the metaphysical tale as a comic strip with artist Milo Manara instead. “Manara saw himself as a vehicle through which Fellini could rid himself of the negativity,” explains McMullan. “The comic is less a visual adaptation of the film and more Fellini coming to terms with the approach of death.” In an eerie fulfillment of the magician’s prophecy, Il Maestro passed away six months after the publication of its first installment, making the comic strip the final project he ever worked on. We talked to McMullen about the enduring influence of the legendary Italian.

What did you find intriguing about the story of the curse surrounding Il Viaggio?
As filmmakers we use narrative to structure our thoughts and feelings, it gives us control over things we can’t explain. That’s why the curse is so fascinating. It had the ability to stifle Fellini from making the film.

Did you worry about the curse affecting you while making the documentary?
I had a bad accident riding my bike home one night and I remember lying on the pavement thinking that this was an extension of the curse. After that I started to be really paranoid. I think I was just living the story, which in way is a good thing, but it didn’t do much for my mental health.

You interview Manara in the documentary. Did he have any interesting insights into working with Fellini?
We conducted the interview in his studio in Verona. Manara explained he and Fellini would often go for dinner to discuss the project, and inevitably Fellini would start sketching his ideas on a napkin. Eventually Manara pulled out a drawer full of a thick pile of them, soiled with Bolognese, wine and olive oil. On each one was a faded sketch, some quite elaborate, others just faded lines, all hand drawn by Fellini. 

Did Fellini see comics as being as important a medium as film?
Fellini considered and approached comics exactly as he did films. Visually, by using stills instead of moving images, Manara’s collaboration with Fellini acts as a bridge between comics and cinema. 

What is it that still makes Fellini relevant today?
His films deconstruct every facet of popular culture in a single film: religion, paparazzi and celebrity. Fellini had the unique ability to be incredibly playful and dark at the same time. He placed the audience in a room full of funhouse mirrors and told them to look at themselves.

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