The is a movie of stunning images that taken together provide a stunning and ironical montage of "the good life." In fact, by the end I was reminded simultaneously of Thoreau's statement that the mass of people live lives of quiet desperation and Kierkegaard's belief that the natural condition of human beings is that of despair. There is no plot. The movie consists of a series of loosely or unconnected scenes with little or not attempt to link them. Many of the scenes are stunning. Some are disturbing. None of them are boring, which is remarkable given the length of the film (166 minutes).
The beginning is memorable, with a helicopter flying over Rome with a statue of Christ hanging underneath. A celebrity journalist, portrayed brilliantly by Marcello Mastroianni (the original producer, Dino de Laurentiis, pulled out of the project when Fellini refused to cast Paul Newman in the lead role), is following the statue in order to write about it, but he and his team get distracted by women sunbathing in bikinis on a rooftop. In this and many other scenes, the tremendous gap between traditional and historical symbols of meaning and current preoccupation with mere pleasure is articulated. The overwhelming sense in the film is of the tremendous triviality of these people's lives and the loss of moral purpose. There are only two exceptions in the film: Marcello's close friend Steiner, whose life is a search for meaning and truth, and a young girl Marcello first meets at a restaurant where she is a food server and then sees again in the last few moments of the film. But Steiner's search is a futile one, leading him not merely to kill himself but his two children as well. And the young girl is not merely a symbol of innocence, but of innocence lost, not to be found again. In the last few seconds of the film, after a drunken debauch, Marcello walks to the seashore at dawn. There he sees the young girl across a watery divide. She waves to him, and tries to shout something to him. But her words are drowned by the waves and the wind, and eventually they both smile, realizing that they he will never be able to hear what she has to say. The way that Marcello wistfully shrugs his shoulders is almost an acknowledgement that he is one of the damned. It is one of the most heartbreaking moments in modern film, as well as one of the most poignant.
Rome itself is as prominent in this film as any of the characters, but it is not the Rome one finds in ROMAN HOLIDAY. Much of the city looks not historic or beautiful, but antiseptic, shoddily fabricated, barely reclaimed modern ruins. There are a number of ugly modernistic buildings and a number of the areas look bleak and abandoned. This is all, of course, highly symbolic of the bleakness of the lives of the characters. Many films have discussions like this imposed on them (I think of some of the magnificent parodies in episodes of Monty Python), but LA DOLCE VITA almost demands metaphysical discussion. Fellini is concerned with the fate of human beings in the modern world, with what we have all lost and what we have failed to acquire in its place.
Special mention has to be made of the extraordinary music for the film written by the incomparable Nino Rota, and easily stands as one of the very greatest film scores ever written, as integral to the success of the film as Bernard Hermann's scores for NORTH BY NORTHWEST or PSYCHO or Ennio Morricone's for A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. It is not epic or histrionic, but playful and light, almost ironic, as if to underscore the manner in which the characters whistle while Rome burns itself out.
A spectacular film, one of my favorites ever. It is arguably Fellini's greatest film, and one of the great monuments of cinema.
on September 13, 2004
LA DOLCE VITA is neither terrible nor overrated. There is something to be said for the pretty large number of film fans who love this one. It is an episodic film, but that is a feature of much of Fellini. In several films, Fellini builds his meaning in this way: not so much with a single continuing plot, but with a series of smaller stories that add up to a total collection of ideas.
Maybe the secret (if there is one) of LA DOLCE VITA's appeal is that it's so darned interesting all the time. This especially applies to the plot concerning Steiner. Steiner is the key figure in the film, apart from Marcello himself, who is Fellini's and the viewer's counterpart. What Steiner represents to Marcello is of prime importance. The young reporter sees the older man as a perfected, idealized version of himself. He longs to emulate Steiner and is convinced this man knows how to live life fully. There is irony aplenty in the entire Steiner narrative. When Marcello brings his wife to the Steiner party, they meet a few interesting, but mostly insufferablty pretentious 'intellectual' types. (the famous Fellini 'careless' post-dubbing of dialogue in this scene particularly amusing: it seems to add to these characters' disconnection from a true self, as though they don't even realize what they are actually saying). Steiner himself associates with these people, yet does not truly seem to be one of them. He feels trapped by his own pretentious circle of intellectuals. When Marcello tell him how much he envies and admires him, Steiner replies:
"Don't be like me. Salvation doesn't lie within four walls. I'm too serious to be a dilettante and too much a dabbler to be a professional. Even the most miserable life is better than a sheltered existence in an organized society where everything is calculated and perfected."
This gives Marcello much to contemplate for the rest of the film. And Steiner's subsequent suicide confirms the deep suspicion growing within the protagonist that all of existence, as he himself has known it thus far, is fundamentally absurd and meaningless. For this reason the film is existential in its outlook. Marcello is the modern, urban human, trapped in an absurd universe. But Fellini, seems not fully despairing in his outlook. Consider, for example, the significance of Marcello's interaction with the blonde girl in the cafe--she represents a simpler life away from the city and the over-complications of modern existence. Many viewers have missed the fact that it is this same girl who waves to Marcello on the beach in the film's final scene: she waves and is telling something he is never able to hear, so he waves once, and turns back to the empty, inebriated crowd as they speculate about the unknowability of nature, embodied by a monstrous, bloated fish.
LA DOLCE VITA is a great film for the way it pulls some viewers in and forces them to contemplate the actual content of what they are seeing. The film's main theme is one it shares with fims of Antonioni: modern man has become disconnected from the natural world and he suffers because of it. LA DOLCE VITA's visual style is poetic, some of its characters are more than compelling and hard to forget, and its musical score by Nino Rota is among the most memorable of all time.
on October 15, 2001
My favorite Fellini film, combining the brilliant kaleidescopic parading of faces that characterize his later films with the humanistic neorealism of his earlier work. Told in a series of all-night parties that each end with the recognition of dawn, the movie tells the story of a tabloid writer who has risen to the top of his profession only to be dragged down because he can't find any sustaining meaning in the glitz and glamour.
But the story line, although more important here than in later Fellini films, is really just a device to put actors on the screen, and nobody does this better. The cast is real reason to see this; Mastroianni in the role of his life, Anouk Aimee as a bored rich woman, and Anita Ekberg spilling out of her dress as an American actress are merely the most famous - every single performance, even by the most trivial of parts, is astounding and some of the best ever captured on film. My personal favorite is the clown trumpet player with the balloons at the Cha-Cha Club - in the middle of his performance he flashes one quick look at Mastroianni that speaks volumes.
Unfortunately, the only version I have ever seen is in a standard screen ratio that is obviously badly panned - in a film this full of images there is almost more panning than actual camera movement going on, and still too much is happening off-screen. This movie needs badly to be letterboxed and given a new subtitle translation - but in the meantime, even if you have to settle for the poor VHS version, just enjoy what we have, from the awesome set pieces like the chasing of the Madonna and the final party, to the amazing Nino Rota score and the haunting organ melody of "Patricia".
on June 8, 2000
From its unforgettable opening image of Jesus flying over the rooftops of Rome to its conclusion at the desperate party that will never end, "La Dolce Vita" is a beautiful, disturbing and mesmerizing film which follows the movements of one tabloid writer (Marcello Mastroianni in the quintessential role of his career) as he first reports on and then becomes one of the dissipated pleasure-seekers among the wealthy elite of Rome. Fellini is at the height of his powers here, combining the earthiness of his earlier masterpiece, "La Strada" and the yet-to-come surrealism of "Juliet of the Spirits" to wonderful and totally satisfying effect. I have watched it many, many times and always find something new.....in the visuals, the dialogue, the hypnotic rhythm set to Nino Rota's perfectly jaded musical backgrounds. One striking image follows another......the midnight revelers with candles in the crumbling castle....Steiner's party with it's assortment of strange, self-obsessed souls....the bored socialite's joyless dance at the club where Marcello begins his long night......the voluptuous American movie star (Anita Ekberg)descending from her plane.......the wild dance led by the satyr-like "Frankie" with Ekberg on his shoulder......the "miracle children" leading the crowd on a merry chase in the rain... I know of no other film that more powerfully engages mind and senses than Fellini's eternal tale of the Eternal City, "La Dolce Vita." How sweet it is.
on August 9, 2000
Most critics consider the soulful "La Strada" to be Federico Fellini's masterpiece, but for just plain entertainment nothing beats "La Dolce Vita". From the opening shot of the hovering Christ statue suspended from a helicopter blessing the City of God to the final close-up of the Umbrian angel gazing after the debauched hero (literally stranded very much like Zampano in "La Strada') "La Dolce Vita" has one scene after another to fascinate on the first viewing or to anticipate time and again. I'm sure everyone has his favorite sequence: the sex goddess wading in the Fontana di Trevi, the giggling children leading a gullible crowd to a "vision" of the Virgin Mary, or the beach house orgy which climaxes this study of jet-set corruption. Corruption is the key word here, and the movie was critized for saying "tsk tsk" to its characters while exploiting their depravity. The cast (or type-cast) is headed by Marcello Mastroianni as Marcello, a bachelor who is catnip to females. Anita Ekberg, a Swedish-born American movie star, plays ... a Swedish-born American movie star! On a sadder level, Lex Barker, a washed-up Tarzan, plays a washed-up Tarzan. The plot consists of Marcello's affairs with a succession of beauties, including Anouk Aimée as a jaded heiress who drifts in and out of Marcello's life, and Yvonne Furneaux as his mistress, pathetically attempting domesticity in an unfurnished apartment. Between beds, Marcello wanders around viewing Roman fever in various locales: a Renaissance castello, a tacky night club, and the Via Veneto, crowded with celebrities and sports cars. Rarely has decadence looked so attractive, photographed in black-and-white wide screen and hopped- up by Nino Rota's nervous music. (Incredibly, I can't find a video cassette in letter-box format.) Marcello is a journalist who specializes in tabloid scandal stories. His sidekick is a ruthlessly aggressive photographer named Paparazzo -- his plural is "paparazzi". An intellectual acquaintance named Steiner (hauntingly played by Alain Cuny) encourages Marcello to pursue more serious writing, but it is Steiner's incomprehensible act of destruction that finally sends Marcello over the edge, causing him to fall headlong into the sweet life which becomes increasingly "acida". Fellini shows the lassitude and futility of these beautiful but blank lives, the characters bored and, yes, basically boring. So why is the story so engrossing? I think it's because the director never repeats himself; every sequence is a variation on the same theme. Fellini, fascinated by the circus, knew how to hold an audience's attention; and in "La Dolce Vita" he has all three rings going at once: a tremendous life force, degeneration, and (in the closing shot of the innocent girl's face) hope. All you have to do is sit back with a glass of Chianti and enjoy the show.
on May 5, 2007
The theme of this story is the narcissism that causes a group of dissatisfied "celebrities" and the reporters and journalists who exploit them to create dehumanized lives in the context of hedonistic materialism.
This story is culturally valuable because it shows us the lifestyles of "celebrities" and aristocracy and how standards are formed around those lifestyles. The story reveals a side of "the sweet life" that is often untold and unnoticed. It serves to remind us what is truly important, and to break up common illusions and misconceptions about the life of glamour. The final scene, in which the healthy young girl and Marcello, with his entourage of misguided celebrities, cannot communicate illustrates the distinction between the two and their value systems.
The glamorous life is not the only thing about which Fellini reveals misconceptions: common understandings of love and religion are also shown to be ineffective and harmful. The scene of the planned "miracle" is one such instance that shows religious superficial and superstitious practices. In one instance, we are shown a group of the faithful ripping apart a sapling tree just because the Madonna was alleged to have appeared in its proximity. This story exemplifies many facets of humanity that are universal and timeless.
The way the elements of style are used serves to increase the worth of the film and intensify the force with which its cultural value is presented. Many of the elements are used with such subtlety that we scarcely understand why we are feeling the way we do until the film is over and we have analyzed it. The dialogue is well-written and telling; however, the other elements of film style contribute as much to our sense of what the film means, if not more. The lighting, editing and sound present to us the aura of the film; alienation, loneliness, boredom, self-centeredness and misery.
on February 3, 2003
If film is a collaboration of people attempting to clarify one person's view of the world -- that of the director -- then La Dolce Vita is the most spectacular example of this paradox that I've seen yet. A series of intwertwined anecdotes, none of which have much in common, outline the sketchy life that is Marcello Mastroianni's. As a celebrity reporter, he walks the line between living a real life and creating one out of thin air, manipulating the people he knows and loves, hiding his emotions behind a veneer of indifference that threatens to suffocate him -- and us -- as the emotional wight of the film swells throughout, threatening to overwhelm him (and us) unless he acts instead of reacts.
Love and sex, life and death, friendship and family, religion and reality -- all are covered here but none are analyzed. To his credit, Fellini is able to evoke more from a gesture, a pause or a heartbreaking silence than most filmmakers can from a full 90 minutes. From the opening image of a helicopter transporting a giant statue of Jesus over a swimming pool bedecked with bathing beauties, Fellini manages to cover a multitude of feelings, desires, questions and fears simultaneously. Personally, my favorite sequences involve Mastroianni's father, whose silence says more about his regard for his son and his own life than any dialogue would, and the scene in the castle rooms connected by echoes, which sums up the frustration of things unheard, miscommunicated and left unsaid. How different would any of our lives be if we could all speak face to face; how exasperatingly perfect a metaphor for the failures of personal communication.
Although 8 1/2 is regarded as Fellini's most personal film and enduring testament, I've always voted for La Dolce Vita as his masterpiece. Understated (if a Fellini film can be), filled with majestic images that burn themselves into one's subconscious while inviting subsequent viewings, bursting with undiscussed passions and intentions, this is a document of a life ALMOST lived. I find it hard to believe anyone could walk away from this film NOT glad to be alive.
`La Dolce Vita' (The Sweet Life), written and directed by Fredrico Fellini is probably the great Italian director's best known film, which occurs on more than one list of the top ten films of all times. It is most certainly on my list. This new DVD set is a very capable presentation of the film, including my very favorite feature, a voice over commentary track. As the director and many other principles connected with the film are gone, American film critic and historian, Richard Schickel, does this commentary track.
For those how know nothing of the movie, it is spoken largely in Italian with a few English speeches from American `film stars' played by Anita Ekberg and Lex Barker, among others. The picture covers an indeterminate number of days in the life of an Italian gossip columnist for, I believe, the International Edition of the Herald-Tribune. Schickel's commentary cites eight episodes, most beginning in the afternoon or evening, carrying through that night, and resolving in the early morning light. Aside from Marcello Mastroianni's character, Marcello, and his function as a reporter on cultural and entertainment happenings, there is relatively little direct connection between the events in the eight scenes. They all, of course, happen in and around the city of Rome in 1959, where we see an enormous amount of rebuilding after the end of World War II. As I was in Rome in 1964 and saw many of the locations where this movie was shot, this great construction effort is quite real. Since there is very little story in this three-hour movie, the whole point of the movie is the life and experiences of the observer, Marcello.
Commentators on this movie, Schickel among them, have developed lots of theories about the images, allusions, and statements made, indirectly in the business and dialogue in the movie. And, since there is very little overt sexuality, I have to believe that some of the `messages', especially an anti-clerical message derived from the movie is very real, especially to conservative Europeans. This is probably the easiest subliminal theme to cull from the story, but it is certainly not the only one. With enough thought, I suspect one can develop some pretty cogent themes involving water, food (especially bananas), circular staircases, and animals (especially cats). All this means is that these 180 minutes are one of the richest cinematic environments created by any filmmaker.
Since the movie is in Italian, there are few memorable quotes from the dialogue (although I have an excellent memory of one line, `And to think he played Tarzan', spoken about Lex Barker by one of the paparazzi. Lex Barker did in fact play Tarzan in several movies, and it is he, not Johnny Weismuller who sticks in my mind as Tarzan), but some of the visual images are among the most widely quoted pictures in the cinematic dictionary. Three of the most famous are the opening shot of a statue of Christ being flown to the Vatican by helicopter; the closing shot of the very large dead fish being hauled to shore in a net, juxtaposed with a shot of an innocent girl becoming to Marcello by the fish; and the most famous of all, the scene with Anita Ekberg wading in the Trevi fountain by night with a small cat (oddly, in the movie, Ekberg is never seen holding the cat in the fountain, although my feeble memory would swear to this scene before I watched it again on this DVD).
One of the great things about Schickel's commentary is that since he had nothing to do with the making of the movie, he has no special knowledge of what may have been going on in Fellini's mind when the movie was being written or shot. Therefore, we are perfectly free to object to his observations. And, there is more than one of his observations with which I find issue. One is that Schickel buys into the theory that the movie is anti-clerical. There is no question that the church or some Christian image appears in many of the scenes, but I really do not see them depicted in a negative light. I see that the church is not relevant to Marcello, but then neither is his father or his girlfriend.
And, it is Marcello's apathy towards everything except getting information for his columns and connecting with famous or rich women like Ekberg and Anouk Aimee's characters for inconsequential sexual liaisons. He seems quite detached from Emma, his live in girlfriend, as he seems almost totally detached from his barren apartment, since he can't take Ekberg there, as Emma is in residence.
One thing with which I agree with Schickel is that `La Dolce Vita' seems to have more in common with films from Fellini's contemporaries such as Antonioni than it does with Fellini's earlier neo-realistic works and his later impressionistic works such as `Satyricon'. I would especially contrast it with Fellini's next film, `8 ½', which is often considered his best. While `La Dolce Vita' hides its moral behind a veiled curtain, to me the point of `8 ½' is positively opaque. I simply have never understood it, while I can watch `La Dolce Vita' over at least once a year. A sure sign of a film worth buying.
One point on which I differ with Schickel is that Marcello is not really a paparazzi. `Paparazzi' are photographers and Marcello is a writer. This is important because this movie was the source of the word, based on the name of Marcello's photographic colleague who probably works on the same paper with Marcello, since they are seen going to assignments together.
This is a truly great movie and I believe it is clearly Fellini's best. It is quite possibly one of the best films ever made. This DVD makes the movie especially worth buying.
on October 20, 2004
Simply one of most amazing films ever made. I am a Fellini fan. I think Amarcord is wonderful, 8 1/2 is pleasantly bizarre and the Satyricon is good for a laugh. But La Dolce Vita surpasses Fellini's reputation, and should stand on its own not as a capsule of a time passed, but as an enduring statement about life itself. The film is, simply put, as intelligent and complex as anything out there. Sure there is a lot of wealthy indulgence, and this is shown with equal parts celebratory awe and biting criticism, but look at Marcello's relationship with his father. Look at the blond bombshell wandering the streets of Rome with a kitten on her head. Look at the final party, in which a tired actress allows herself to be feathered before saying, with true fatigue, "that was fun, but the party is over."
Marcello Mastroianni gives a truly nuanced performance, and his discontentment is evident in his every word. With one look, he can make the audience sympathize with his dispicable impulses.
As effusive as this is, I feel that I cannot do justice to the brilliance of this film. Forget Fellini, forget the indulgence of the jet-set, this film is about beauty and love, passion and loss. A good contender for best film of all time.
on September 13, 2015
Fellini was such a master filmmaker. Along with Luchino Visconti, he had a brilliant camera eye and with La Dolce Vita he created an epic movie mural in wide screen. The luminous black and white cinematography enhances journalist Marcello's odyssey, his wanderings through the modern Rome of the late 50's, in broad daylight and in the inky nights (from St. Peter's Basilica to The Trevi Fountain ; from a prostitute's flooded basement apartment to a decadent orgy at film's end. The "Sweet Life" (english translation), every sequence a vignette woven into giant tapestry of greed and overindulgence. Over half a century later the film's power to shock many have dulled a bit, but this is still one of the great Italian movies of all time.