La Dolce Vita Reviews
By the closing moments of the film, we're wondering just how far Marcello will go, how much of a sleezy "worm" he really is. Here his good friend has just murdered his children and committed suicide, and now he's out partying, wrecking his friend's home, and trying to push the boundaries of the party into stripping and even sex. When he doesn't quite get his way, he resorts to humiliating another girl at the party, turning her into a chicken by drenching her in water and sticking feathers ripped from a pillow onto her. The party ends with each person given a grand exit to dance and music as Marcello throws feathers in the air - it feels like we're going to end it here, and the sense that this film will have many unanswered questions, loose ends, and possibly leave us unsatisfied, creeps over. The film keeps going, but why? What is this little epilogue at the beach where they find a dead sting ray and he sees the young girl from the cafe? My take is that she's the embodiment of what the film will define as "too far," since we're wondering what depths Marcello will stoop to. She is unquestionably underage, but there is a loving glance between the two. He wants her to come along, but she interprets his gesture as a wave goodbye - they can't see each other clearly. Happenstance keeps them apart, perhaps for the better. His appetite would never be satisfied with her, she'd only be as good as her youth, which will eventually go away. Marcello does not learn how to love in this film, he is bound to hedonism, alcoholism, and disgracing others. The question isn't so much would he or wouldn't he with the young girl - he most certainly would - it's will he or won't he, and it turns out he doesn't. That's just how it happens.
Like Jordan Belfort in Wolf of Wall Street, we're drawn in and entertained by Marcello's antics. We're equally satisfied and frustrated with his losses, like when his reunion with his first encounter turns into a serious love talk, only to be flipped on him as she falls into another man's arms right amidst his admitting he loves her. But like a Fellini film usually does, we drift into the next scenario and away from that one - that world now exists solely in the imagination as we watch a wonderfully bizarre ghost hunt in an old beaten down house that's part of this family's wealthy estate. Here, a woman will simulate sex with a ghost, and Marcello will find himself in another sexcapade.
Explores some interesting themes, but is a bit hit-and-miss. The examination of the intrusiveness and fabrication of the news by the media was good, highlighted by a few powerful scenes (the Virgin Mary kids and the bus stop scenes especially). There is also the idea of longing for a simpler life. However, these themes aren't explored very thoroughly, and there is no profound conclusion to them.
The main problem is that the powerful scenes get diluted by some pretty dull, pointless ones. Too much time is spent on random stuff that has no bearing on the plot. Not only does this make the movie unnecessarily longer, but minimises the impact of the more profound sub-plots. Too many powerful scenes followed up by meaningless scenes.
On the plus side, there's Anita Ekberg. She is stunningly beautiful and provides the movie's iconic moment - the fountain scene. Her role did not require much acting talent but she makes up for this by having great...presence. Unfortunately, she only appears for about 1/6th of the movie. Once she is out of the picture, the energy level of the movie reduces significantly.
Interesting to note that the supporting cast includes Nico, later of The Velvet Underground and Nico fame. She appears as herself, sort of.
The first instance of imagery overpowering substance occurs during the first night when Marcello meets Maddalena, a beautiful heiress, in a nightclub. After being seduced by Maddalena, Marcello has trouble resisting temptation and eventually submits to his desires. Surprisingly, Marcello feels no shame. In fact, his lust for Maddalena becomes stronger. The noncommittal relationship and desire highlights the superficial nature of both characters.
Shortly thereafter, Marcello meets Sylvia, the Swedish-American actress, and begins to pursue her. However, what he is really chasing down is her image, that of a free-spirited, beautiful, and lively woman. True to her superficial character, the only things that matter in her life are pleasure, attention, and wealth. Because of this, she completely ignores Marcello when he tries to woo her. Infatuated with her public persona, Marcello fails to step back and question what is in front of him. Because of the reliance on this image, Marcello ultimately never gets her and furthers himself into the meaningless misconception of fame and fortune.
Similar to the encounter with Sylvia, Marcello once again finds himself a victim of a meaningless narrative. He travels to the site where two children claim to have seen the Virgin Mary. When he arrives, however, it is completely different than what he expected. Instead of a reserved landscape with humble followers of Christ seeking peacefulness, it is a gigantic theatrical operation. The cameras are there only to capture the false image of the Madonna. Consequently, the viewers of this event try to convince themselves that what they see is true. In reality, it is just an illusion.
Following this night is the party at Steiner's rich, ornate apartment. Once again, similar to his experiences with Maddalena and Sylvia, Marcello is caught in a situation perceiving someone as an ideal image. Marcello admires the "sophistication" and "happiness" of Steiner, idolizing him as the perfect man with a perfect life. Both inspirational and admiring to Marcello, Steiner represents the hollowness of the aristocracy. A seemingly happy married man, Steiner is wealthy and powerful. However, his materialism does not conceal his lack of depth and character. Although he has all these material possessions, Steiner is clearly missing something spiritually. Tragically, Steiner takes his life as well as his children's. This symbolically represents a loss hope in the dreams of Marcello, but, more importantly, it signifies the bleakness and fruitlessness of the luxurious lifestyle, something Marcello thought was so great. His suicide shows that his life has become meaningless, for he cannot cope with the disenchantment and loneliness.
By affiliating himself with members of high social status, Marcello tries to discover meaning. However, he cannot find what he is looking for because his search is characterized by people with hollow lives. The elite are seemingly content and are looked upon as exhibiting an ideal life. In actuality, these individuals are emotionally lost with no purpose. Maddalena is bored with her money and, despite being a beautiful heiress, cannot find meaning. Sylvia is only an image and turns out to be a simpleminded fool. The faking of the Virgin Mary turns out to be a sham. Oblivious to the meaningless social context, Marcello does not look past the persona of Steiner and finds himself disillusioned. In the end, his reliance on the facades of his acquaintances dooms him to a life of emptiness.
As Marcello Mastroianni's hedonistic and conflicted popular celebrity lifestyle journalist makes his way across Rome's terrain he guides us into what become scenes or mini-episodes that form "The Sweet Life" to which the Italian title refers.
Federico Fellini is just starting to his his new cinematic style. Cinematographer, Otello Martelli, and composer, Nino Rota, along with his leading man are the key artists who help to turn this loosely-constructed film into one of the most lavishly beautiful, romantic, glam, insightful and most influential works in cinematic history.
Despite the satire and cultural commentary, this film retains it's power thanks to the iconic moments and scenes Fellini creates. Everyone has at least two favorite scenes. Though, for me, this is a movie of espisodes. Each one more or less fitting together to form a sort of salute and farewell. More than just Rome is changing. So is the culture and all those who live in and around it.
My favorite episodes are the beginning with The Christ hanging by a rope on his way to the Vatican . The other is one of the film's longer episodes in which a hot and famous Hollywood movie star, The Legendary Anita Ekberg, arrives in a self-absorbed glee as the "paparazzi" dangle on her every fake move and turn of phrase. When she is asked what she most enjoys about life, she delivers one of the best lines I've ever heard in a movie: " "I like lots of things. But there are three things I like most. Love, love and love." Later, near the end of all-too brief time on the screen she will saunter into that fountain and inspire a glam imprint on our collective brain.
Like a lot of the characters in this film -- She isn't particularly "likable." But she is "here" to stay. Fellini not only captured this era, he ended up helping to form it.
This is an epic with an epic-like running time. But the screen is filled with so much to see and so many things to say -- it is hard to imagine not loving it.
It actually doesn't matter if we love it or hate it. Fellini's s La Dolce Vita is true cinematic masterpiece that is both modern and old-fashioned.