Italians, as Fellini well understood, are obsessed with clowns.
First, they elected a prime minister, who turned out to be a clown—and (finally) they threw him out of office.
Now, they’ve turned their attention to a different kind of clown, Beppe Grillo, who is the Five Star party’s central figure—and they’ve just elected the first mayor of a major city from his movement.
At the core of the Five Star philosophy is contempt for what its supporters regard as Italy’s corrupt political establishment.
And now the party has emerged from the virtual world of the web to confront the hard realities of governing.
Parma is the first substantial place where Five Star candidates have taken power.
This is where their ideas and performance will be tested on the ground, measured by the rest of Italy, before they try to march on to parliament.
Mr Pizzarotti talked of what he felt the traditional politicians had done wrong in the way they ran Parma.
He said they had poured money into expensive and unnecessary building projects instead of investing in Parma’s people.
“I think it’s the social fabric that contains the potential of a city, of a state,” he said.
“It’s not constructing a building that will re-launch our economy. We have to change our way of thinking.
“I hope that by the end of our administration, Parma will have understood that there are different, sustainable models that can produce a good local economy.”
There is an environmental theme to the changes he hopes to bring about: less use of cars, less emphasis on consumption, greater awareness of the need to save energy.
Central to the movement is the idea that people should no longer vote and then step back and hope that elected politicians will do the right thing in office.
Citizens should instead remain involved in the process of policy formation.
Can this new kind of clown fix a country that has been run like a circus by a series of right-wing political clowns during most of the postwar period?