Director: Federico Fellini
Plot: Journalist and man-about-town Marcello struggles to find his place in the world, torn between the allure of Rome's elite social scene and the stifling domesticity offered by his girlfriend.
Awards: Won 1 Oscar - costume design. Nom. for 3 Oscars - best director, original screenplay, art direction-set decor. Won Palme d'Or (Cannes).
Rating: M18 for sexual references.
There is so much critical acclaim for La Dolce Vita that I feel the pressure to give this a high rating. Unfortunately, I think this “Fellini masterpiece” is severely overrated. While there is much to admire in this film that gave birth to the word “paparazzi” from a character named Paparazzo, a news photographer who with a camera in arm scurries here and there like a rat in a maze trying to get a money shot, I feel that it lacks the emotional depth of some of Fellini’s great works.
La Dolce Vita, which means “the sweet life”, remains a visually admirable film of an excellent standard, but I was not quite satisfied with the experience. There was not one moment when I cared for the lead character, Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni), a journalist who dreams of being a serious writer but is sucked into the decadent lifestyle of 1960s Rome, chasing celebrities and seeking aristocratic acceptance. He has a domesticated fiancée whom he does not love. Instead, he goes around sleeping with beautiful, high-status women.
Running at an epic length of nearly three hours, La Dolce Vita follows Marcello for seven days and nights as he meets various people in all corners of Rome. In the film’s most iconic scene, Marcello is seduced by Sylvia (Anita Ekberg), an American celebrity actress, under the stunning backdrop of the Trevi fountain. Fellini, whose many films ooze style and energy, was also a creator of flamboyant images, which when accompanied by the music of one of his most frequent collaborators, Nino Rota, represented some of the most magical moments in Italian cinema.
But while La Dolce Vita is certainly a stylish film with quite impressive, and at times panoramic, black-and-white cinematography, it somewhat lacks in terms of energy and drive. Much of the film after the Trevi fountain scene goes a bit downhill and appears lackluster. Thankfully, the film is punctuated by a beautiful yet off-key scene shot away from urban decadence of an innocent country girl interacting with Marcello who is trying to type a novel.
The themes of celebrity worship, and the obsession with limelight are recurring threads of thought in Fellini’s film. He is clever not to indulge in verbal moralizing via narration or through one of his characters, but instead let the visuals speak for themselves. Two powerful scenes come to mind: One, a scene of a woman being photographed by paparazzi and enjoying the spontaneous limelight oblivious to the fact that something tragic has happened. Another is a peculiar, almost surrealistic sequence of drunken crazymaking that nearly results in an orgy, with the dehumanization of women as sex toys.
La Dolce Vita is not always a pleasure to watch. Of course, many would strongly beg to differ. But its long-winded nature does not go down too well with me. What still keeps this “Fellini masterpiece” alive as one of the key works of post neo-realist Italian cinema is the seductive allure of Ekberg, and the capturing of a past that seems light years away, yet its themes appear remarkably more relevant now than it was half a century ago. While a second viewing might change my mind about this film, I am not quite tempted to try.
GRADE: B- (7/10 or 3 stars)
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