Fellini has been widely perceived as a moralist, ruthlessly portraying the corruption he saw around him in the social, political, and cultural flounderings of postwar Italy. But to regard him as a sometimes appreciative but more often critical observer of his world is to see only half the puzzleâ€”the less interesting half. For Fellini always knew that he was part of the world he beheld, and what haunted him most was the impossibility of objectivity. The quasi-documentary approach of neorealist film-making became meaningfulâ€”and honestâ€”only in combination with the self-examination more commonly associated with expressionism.
La dolce vita and 8Â½, still for most viewers the two jewels in Fellini’s crown, present unapologetic self-portraits of the director at two stages of his creative life: the passionate would-be novelist, underemployed as a gossip reporter, unable to avoid becoming what he beheld; and the celebrated film director struggling to reconcile his creative visions with the expectations of an increasingly demanding public and to find common ground between his personal life and his public image. They also reflect a pivotal two-step process by which Fellini moves away from the linear neorealism of his earlier work and toward the surreal episodic narrative form that to one degree or another informs all of his later work.