The films of Federico Fellini weren’t always fantastic, at least in both senses of the word. Like much of his generation of great Italian filmmakers, he got his start as a neorealist, making harsh, serious films grounded in Italy’s postwar decimation. At the dawn of the ’60s Fellini’s films became more probing, fanciful, and formally ambitious. But his earlier films show an auteur applying his still-developing powers to the plight of the working poor, even though his lens is more partisan than the realist tag might suggest. Showing as part of AFI’s Fellini retrospective, Il Bidone, from 1955, follows a group of swindlers—and narratively, to be sure, it is one of Fellini’s weaker films. But structurally, it’s clear that with Il Bidone, Fellini was working out how to craft the kind of episodic structure that makes 1960’s La Dolce Vita one of the greatest films of all time.

THE FILM SHOWS AT 9:45 P.M. AT THE AFI SILVER THEATRE AND CULTURAL CENTER, 8633 COLESVILLE RoaD, SILVER SPRING. $6-$10. (301) 495-6720.