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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
LA DOLCE VITA is an episodic film, but that is a feature of much of
Fellini. In several of his films, Fellini builds meaning in this way:
not with a single continuing plot, but with a series of smaller stories
that add up to a total collection of interconnected 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 insufferable 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 main theme is one it shares with films 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.
I first saw this movie probably over 25 years ago when I was quite a bit
younger. At that point I enjoyed it for its party scenes, sense of joy
life and vitality and....Marcello Mastroianni. Now that I'm older myself
and have just recently seen the movie again, I find that I have a much
deeper understanding of it. Maybe it takes some age to find some meaning.
In a nutshell, Marcello is at a crossroads in his life, he's unable to
settle down or move foreward into any direction - he's a diletante with
aspirations but no real goals. He's wrapped up in himself and in
rather dreamy ideals onto other people. But as he keeps projecting on to
others he comes to find in each situation that he doesn't really know the
person and they are a mystery and probably a disappointment to him.
certainly steiner is the biggest disappointment and disillusions him to a
degree that he is apparently lost to a life of corruption and decadence as
result. but it's not that these people are difficult to understand to
someone other than marcello - i think we can see that anita ekberg's
character really is just a big good-natured blond and not the mysterious
goddess marcello makes her out to be; his father is again - the typical
traveling salesman and perhaps not the paternal figure that marcello would
like him to be. his amour maddelena lives up to her name even as marcello
starts believing himself in love with her - he's literally seduced by
nothing more than an image he creates in his own mind. his friend steiner
seems to have it all to marcello and to be the renaissance man that he
like to be - but, of course, he is dissatisfied and disturbed and we see
what the end is. the only one whom marcello forms a somewhat realistic
connection with is his girlfriend whom he treats badly and neglects
her obvious love for him. he refuses to actually work on the one
relationship that he could actually succeed at - he would rather dream
possibilities than actualize something.
marcello cannot communicate with others because he cannot see them as the people they really are - he just sees them as projections of his own needs, aspirations, desires and goals. when he finds out what they're really like, he either turns away or falls apart. this is an outstanding movie - 10 out of 10 and beautifully photographed. if you don't get it now, try again in 10 years - it will wait for you to catch up.
To appreciate this film you need to appreciate film. I'm saddened that so
many have commented negatively on it and cast dispersions upon those who
enjoyed it. It is not Titanic, or Armageddon. It is a long film that
attempts to show more than a hackneyed plot about some simple people. It is
a beautiful exploration about life that does not preach or try to tell you
what to think. I understand why many are frustrated with it. It seems to
go nowhere at times, but thats the point. And most importantly the scenery
on this trip to nowhere is beautiful.
So, if you are the type that does not like to watch films that are art, do not watch this. Watch Coyote Ugly. It will entertain you. Other films to avoid: Last Year at Marienbad, The Seventh Seal, The 400 Blows, etc. Go see something with a gun on the cover instead.
For those who like a challenge rather than simple escapism, this is a film that engages you.
Different films for different people. People seem very threatened when they don't like a film that is widely regarded as a classic. The reason is simple, it's not your kind of film. But don't assume its a film for no one. Makes sense right?
I just saw a new print of this wonderful film after not having seen it for maybe 20 years and it is still spellbinding. Fellini sums up an era and an attitude here, and succeeds in doing something that ought to be impossible: he makes a full and meaningful film about empty and meaningless lives. Mastroianni seems to have been to Fellini what DeNiro has been to Scorsese--a perfect embodiment of a personal vision. What a wonderful actor he was--brilliant in his youth and in his age. Many other performers are hardly less fine here, and the cinematography and composition are stunning throughout. There are so many indelible images from this film, images that have become iconic over the decades: Ekberg in the Fontana di Trevi, the statue of Christ flying over Rome, the astonishing, candlelit procession at the castle, to name a few. It seems plot less and yet it isn't plot less at all; Marcello's ultimately fruitless search for meaning, a search that he abandons in the end, as he stares across a slight and yet unbridgable abyss on the beach at a lovely young girl who seems to possess the knowledge and understanding that is denied to him. I'm astonished at the number of people who don't get this movie, who seem to think that Fellini expects us to admire the bizarre characters who people the film, or who think that a movie about worthless individuals must be a worthless movie, or who don't seem to understand that movies that are full of what become clichés usually do so because they capture an important vision. Fellini made several exceptional films: 81/2, La Strada, Amarcord, and The Nights of Cabiria come to mind, but La Dolce Vita may be, when all is said and done, his masterwork.
LA DOLCE VITA presents a series of incidents in the life of Roman
tabloid reporter Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni)--and although
each incident is very different in content they create a portrait of an
intelligent but superficial man who is gradually consumed by "the sweet
life" of wealth, celebrity, and self-indulgence he reports on and which
he has come to crave.
Although the film seems to be making a negative statement about self-indulgence that leads to self-loathing, Fellini also gives the viewer plenty of room to act as interpreter, and he cleverly plays one theme against its antithesis throughout the film. (The suffocation of monogamy vs. the meaninglessness of promiscuity and sincere religious belief vs. manipulative hypocrisy are but two of the most obvious juxtapositions.) But Fellini's most remarkable effect here is his ability to keep us interested in the largely unsympathetic characters LA DOLCE VITA presents: a few are naive to the point of stupidity; most are vapid; the majority (including the leads) are unspeakably shallow--and yet they still hold our interest over the course of this three hour film.
The cast is superior, with Marcello Mastroianni's personal charm particularly powerful. As usual with Fellini, there is a lot to look at on the screen: although he hasn't dropped into the wild surrealism for which he was sometimes known, there are quite a few surrealistic flourishes and visual ironies aplenty--the latter most often supplied by the hordes of photographers that scuttle after the leading characters much like cockroaches in search of crumbs. For many years available to the home market in pan-and-scan only, the film is now in a letterbox release that makes it all the more effective. Strongly recommended.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
Mostly because of the terrific high contrast, B&W visuals, and the
evocative music, this is the only Fellini film I have seen that I have
somewhat enjoyed. I recommend it, but not without reservations. It's a
complex film with many textured layers of meaning. And, in typical
Fellini fashion, it rambles and it meanders.
Deviating from standard three-Act structure, Fellini's story consists of roughly eight episodes, all starting at night and ending at dawn, more or less. Each has its own crisis. And the only thing that unites these episodes into a coherent whole is the story's protagonist, Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni). In his job as a journalist and overall observer of human nature, Marcello encounters people in high society who seem outwardly happy and self-fulfilled. On closer examination, however, these people are empty, hollow, alienated, emotionally adrift and vacant.
A good example is the starlet Sylvia (Anita Ekberg), a glamorous figure, but she's all image and no substance. "La dolce vita" is the first film that uses the concept of "paparazzi", which implies the importance of "image", separate from substance.
Throughout the various episodes Marcello sees these "images" of happiness, of contentment, but the images are deceptive, elusive, unreliable. In one episode, two "miracle" children "see" the Madonna. "The Madonna is over there", shouts one child. The crowd chases after her. But the other child who "sees" the Madonna runs in the opposite direction. Happiness, self-fulfillment, religious visions ... they're all a will-o'-the-wisp. And so, the film conveys a sense of pessimism and cynicism.
The film thus has deep thematic value. It caused a scandal when it was released, and was banned by the Catholic Church, apparently for appearing to be anti-religious.
Yet for all its deep meaning, "La dolce vita" can be a trial to sit through. Somewhere in the second half I began to lose interest. I don't have a problem with Fellini's deviation from standard plot structure. I do have a problem with a director who doesn't know when to quit. This film goes on for almost three hours. A good edit, to delete all the fat, would have tightened up the story and rendered it more potent. As is, it's too strung out, too stretched, too meandering.
If the viewer can persevere, there's enormous cinematic art in this film. And helped along by Nino Rota's music, the film is wonderfully evocative, at times stylishly melancholy.
This movie is about a Roman journalist at the crossroads of his life
but unable to move forward in any meaningful direction. He is a man
trapped in his life of superficiality.
Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita is a very aesthetically beautiful film. The widescreen compositions are often outstanding. The crisp black and white photography is lit to perfection and a joy to behold. One of the factors that makes Italian cinema in general so appealing for me is the gorgeous natural light of that country, allied with the stylish decor and architecture; and in this film these elements are well in abundance. If nothing else, La Dolce Vita is a treat to the eyes. Style over substance is a term that could certainly also be applied to the denizens of LDV's Rome. We are introduced to an array of beautiful but shallow character's; from Marcello Mastroianni's gossip journalist, via Anita Ekberg's international film star or Nico's fashion model, everyone is beautiful on the surface but somewhat dead underneath. And perhaps this is a problem with the film in general; a three hour expose of shallow people is an exhausting experience.
The film is not plot-driven. It's episodic, divided into seven days in the life of a Roman gossip columnist. It's not always obvious what the point of certain events actually is. I found myself spending quite a lot of energy actually trying to actively understand the meaning of Marcello's experiences, and not always successfully I concede. But suffice to say that a very general reading of the film's message would be that it is about the superficiality of celebrity and the emptiness of much of modern urban life. And while a lot of it is still very relevant today in particular the public's obsession with celebrity it's not always clear what Fellini is trying to say. It's quite an obtuse film, with a fair amount of symbolic imagery and loaded dialogue. It's certainly serious cinema. Although I often found myself enjoying it most when it was less intellectual and more sensual, such as the wonderful iconic scene where Anita Ekberg takes a dip in the Fontana di Trevi. This justifiably famous sequence is the most purely cinematic moment in La Dolce Vita and, in my opinion, the film could have benefited from more scenes of such striking power punctuated through its three hour running time.
Overall, although I do admire this film, I find it too tiring and drawn out to love. It's very well acted and photographed, it's just a little unengaging and occasionally tedious. That said, it's one to seek out if you are at all interested in 60's New Wave cinema.
(first of all, sorry my poor english)
Who, in this entire world, drunk as a horse in the middle of the night,
never discovered the meaning of life, that it can be so easy and joyfull
This happens with a certain frequency. The big problem is, after all that,
to face all the thoughts and conclusions in a sober monday morning, when
everything is just real, concious and above all that sincere.
This is the the big question and problem of Marcello Rubini, a reporter of
gossip magazines who has to deal with the fact that he tastes the same
poison he spreads by leaving in a group of people which he sucks his
In a moment he is directing his papparazzi and, in the next, he is running away from them. He flows between all kinds of social circles and the only impression he gives is that it doesnt matter what kind of craziness you are getting into everything is a big cliché. From the mainstream world of a gorgeous actress who feels able to express opinions about everything (and we buy it), passing throught the religious world of the faith, and also an intellectual circle that gives a fake impression of freedom, everything turns out to be an escape. That blonde girl appears as a stroke of pureness and sincereness, something we should really look for, but we just dont. In the case of Marcello's life, writing is the solutions he always substitute for vain experiences. Something he likes and that he needs a young girl to tell him that. That litlle cute girl is a person Marcello would like to be, someone who faces the soberty of a monday morning with hopeness and happiness.
Long, episodic film by Federico Fellini about the conceits and facades
of life: fame, intellect, sex, friendship, despair, innocence, etc.
Marcello Mastroianni is perfect as the shallow tabloid reporter who joyfully follows around Rome a blonde movie star from Sweden (Anita Ekberg) as she prowls around the city's bars and bistros. He is also having an affair with a woman (Anouk Aimee) while his girl friend (Yvonne Furnaux) seems to be going nuts.
But as Marcello moves through the city following the movie star, the miracle of the virgin, a few parties, etc. we see that his life is very empty because the things he reports on are meaningless drivel. We see that fame and fortune and the trappings of success are meaningless.
Marcello starts to realize that the movie star is a vapid airhead, the miracles are a sham, and his friend's (who seemed quite happily married) ghastly murder and suicide show the futility of life itself.
The Fellini themes are common to many of his films, but what makes La Dolce Vita so memorable are the cynical tone, the Nina Rota music, and the string of terrific visual images.
The opening scene is of a helicopter hauling a gilded plaster statue through the air across Rome. The flying saint is a bizarre image but serves to set up the movies which is all about images and events that are never what they seem to be.
Notable are the scenes of statuesque Ekberg in that terrific strapless black dress with the voluminous skirts as she swishes around dancing and eventually wading through a city fountain. The party scenes are also notable. The first because of the intolerable intellectuals who sits around and talk and talk but never do anything. The last party has the indelible image of Mastroianni "riding" a drunken blonde woman as though she were a horse. The final image of the giant dead fish is quite unsettling as it symbolizes their bloated lives.
Fellini is brilliant in filling scenes with odd people as extras, usually hideously dressed or wearing ugly glasses. The "gallery" of people who inhabit the city is one of grotesques, vapid fashion slaves, the rich, hangers on, etc.
A long film, but highly recommended and very memorable.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Long considered a major filmmaker, Federico Fellini established his
reputation through an insistence on the interest-value of his own
fantastic and idiosyncratic vision of the world
In so doing, however,
he repeatedly lays himself open to charges of egomania, self-indulgence
and superficiality; certainly much of his work, if visually
extraordinary, is hyperbolic, naïve and incoherent
This film about the hedonistic, amoral life of Rome's "beautiful people" is really a series of startling episodes held together by a character played by Marcello Mastroianni, a gossip columnist who is himself caught up in the aimless, scandalous "sweet life."
Filled, like all Fellini films, with stunning, bizarre images and faces and marked by the director's wild comic imagination, the film was widely condemned as "vulgar, witless, and intellectually bankrupt" and lavishly praised as "a cultural and social document, as well as an exciting entertainment."
"La Dolce Vita" moves from one shocking sequence to another It is a sprawling epic satire on what Fellini considered the spiritual malaise of modern society It followed a journalist employed by a scandal magazine around a Rome obsessed with orgiastic parties, voluptuous film stars and the commercial marketing of religion While its images are flamboyanta statue of Christ flying above Rome suspended from a helicopter, Anita Ekberg dancing in the Trevi fountain, a kitten on her headthe film's despairing tone often rings meaningless, even though Mastroanni's compulsive womanizer, never glamorized, fails to achieve redemption
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