La Dolce Vita (1960)

4,5/5

Italy; Federico Fellini

Parental Guidance - Mild Sexual Conent; Violence


Fellini’s iconic drama charts seven busy days, frantic nights and sad dawns of the life of a weary aspiring novelist, Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni), writing for tabloids and scandal sheets. Although an outsider, Marcello reaps the benefits of the proximity with the stars and wallows in their glitter. By day, he is nothing more than a face in the crowd, hunched over his papers, banging his head against the glass walls separating the mere mortals from the carefree gods of the high life. He has a fiancée who still plagues him with a myriad of tokens of adoration that he tries to ignore. But by night, he is the king of the bacchanalia, the “guilty pleasure” of the rich and powerful. And there seems to be no room for reevaluations, regrets or even feelings in this hectic, dead-end quest for pleasure.

Everything seems to have been already said about this mammoth cinematic achievement, one of the few films that are truly interwoven into the fabric of the mythology of the seventh art. It walks a fine line between popular filmmaking and arthouse cinema; stylistically, it represents a turning point in Fellini’s career, halfway between its initial neorealist phase (I Vitelloni) and the gaudy extravaganzas of later years (Satyricon); it is a satire and a tragedy. Yet there is maybe one thing that could have been overlooked in all those exegeses. La Dolce Vita is among those film that demand from its audience categorical, unconditional involvement, not only intellectually (to follow an intricate and occasionally surreal plotline) but also emotionally. Moving at a luxuriously unhurried pace, it asks one not only to surrender to what is on screen, but also to accept an altogether different challenge. As the film unfurl, it is all human lives that are under scrutiny: the riches, the would-be riches, the poor and humble, the greedy and the resigned. Marcello might be a base and pitiable individual, but he wants to know all about you. Because if there is one take-away message in this film, it would be this one: we all have the same appetite for life, we are the stars of our own existence… and it depends only on us if we will share the screen with anyone.

The acting is uniformly good, but Mastroianni shines out as a tragic and feverish figure in what is no longer a quest for happiness, but the disintegrating flight of a comet. As usual, Fellini’s imagery is fantastic: blending the suave, fragile grace of starlet Anita Ekberg bathing in the Trevi Fountain with the outrageous kink of the final orgiastic revelry, the ensemble is a feast for the senses, further enlivened by its rich, dense black-and-white cinematography.   

Fuelled by much more than an irrepressible energy, La Dolce Vita is undeniably a landmark in cinematic history and, independently of its impact and mythology, a poignant, bitter and highly unconventional commentary upon the failure of a generation and class.

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