Travelfore | Tips, features and photography from destinations all over the globe.
Published: June 12, 2013
Opening with the tiniest click, the door swung wide to reveal the furnishings of a classic Old World grand hotel suite. On the far wall, the late-afternoon light of the Italian coastline filtered through gauzy curtains, striking the worn velvet seat of an old Empire settee and filling the room with a funereal glow.
In the next room, a padded headboard spanned the bed where the room’s regular resident, the great Italian director Federico Fellini, must have slept next to his wife, the actress Giulietta Masina. And here, in one corner, was the very telephone that Fellini must have been holding when he collapsed in this room just before his death.
Or so it seemed. In fact, my guide pointed out, the telephone (and most of the other décor of the Grand Hotel Rimini) had been replaced since Fellini’s death almost 20 years earlier in 1993. Much like a scene from one of Fellini’s movies, what seemed authentic and real had turned out to be a flight of the imagination.
“Cinecittà is the real place, from many points of view,” said Paolo Fabbri, a Rimini-born professor of semiotics (and a former director of the currently closed Fellini Foundation), referring to the gigantic Cinecittà movie studios near Rome. “Fellini’s imagination was really directed by dreams.”
Dreamlike as the director’s vision might have been, my search was for the real Fellini. For several days last February, I visited the director’s hometown on Italy’s northeastern coast, in search of places that inspired scenes in his movies, and ones that were significant in his own life.
Fellini was born in Rimini in 1920, and lived there until just before World War II; one challenge for the Fellini-obsessed traveler is that much of the town from the director’s time had been destroyed during the war. A second challenge was that Fellini had romanticized the settings in the two movies that are most commonly associated with Rimini, “Amarcord” (1973) and the ultra-charming “I Vitelloni” (1953), so those places aren’t always easily recognizable on the ground.
Moreover, despite the 20th anniversary of Fellini’s death this year, the city often seems to overlook the director despite, or perhaps because of, his international renown, and simply finding significant spots takes some sleuth work.
“For Rimini, Fellini is more a problem than a resource,” Mr. Fabbri said. “We don’t know how to do something that is worthy of this great character.”
To prepare for my trip, I loaded up on Fellini’s movies and armed myself with the director’s 1976 book of interviews and articles, “Fellini on Fellini.” He spends the first 40 pages writing about his hometown, talking about characters from his movies (the vamp Gradisca in “Amarcord,” it turns out, was quite real) and noting that, above all, “I don’t like going back to Rimini.”
Jaded travelers might say the same thing today, considering the town an unremarkable beach resort on the Adriatic coast, about an hour and a half southeast of Bologna. In one direction are bland hotels as far as the eye can see. In the other direction: even more bland hotels. At first glance, you could be almost anywhere — until you come to the director’s haunt, the Grand Hotel.
“When I read descriptions in novels that did not quite raise my imagination to the heights I thought they should, I would pull out the Grand Hotel,” wrote Fellini, recalling his childhood. “The Grand Hotel became Istanbul, Baghdad, Hollywood.”
Walking into the hotel’s imposing grounds from the park named after the director, I could imagine it standing in for just about any romantic setting. Outside, ivy-covered palms and curlicued fountains led to the lobby with high ceilings and chandeliers. Inside, a bar opened onto a broad terrace that overlooked the beach, just like the terrace where the elegant couples had danced the night away in “Amarcord” and “I Vitelloni.”
It seemed like the kind of hotel for a great director. My own small room had a balcony with a view of the sea and a pier like the one where the motorcyclist Scureza had raced up and down in “Amarcord.”