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I've seen this film regularly since 1971. In theatres, on TV, on video, on DVD. It doesn't age. If anybody ever needed proof that Fellini was a genius, this is it. La dolce vita remains the most touching statement about the human condition I ever saw on film. Everybody remembers the magic-realistic image of Anita Ekberg in the Trevi fountain, and a truly amazing image it is. But the film is much more than a slightly surrealistic sketchbook of emotionally empty jet setters. It is more existentialist than any book by Sartre or Camus. The final sequence is simply devastating. We are all Marcello. Since over 30 years this is my number-one film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
SPOILER (I'm going to muse about the last scene, so be
After viewing La Dolce Vita for the second time, I found, like so many before me, not only that the last scene of the film was one of the greatest ever, but that it reinforced that Marcello was fated from the beginning to suffer a tragic downward spiral into a banal existence. Marcello is the perfect modern tragic hero in this era of television and tabloid saturation. After all, if a resurrected Jesus can do no more than arouse self-infatuated waves and flashbulb greetings as he descends upon Rome and a crowd of frenzied onlookers devours a tree under which two innocent children claimed to have seen Christ/Mary, surely artistic purity cannot survive.
We all know that when Marcello meets the young girl in the cafe that she cannot possibly possess enough innocence and inspiration to fuel Marcello's endeavor at writing a novel and help him stave off the perils of decadent Rome and a career as a host to the leeches who inhabit it. Just like the dying manta ray desperate to stay alive on the beach in the last scene, only to be subjected to inane comments from Marcello's vapid "friends" like "why is it staring at us," Marcello, too, is dying inside, and we know that any attempt on his part to communicate his suffering to those same people would be met with the same disdain and obliviousness.
Notwithstanding the great sense of triumph and joy I would have enjoyed had Marcello left his party of idiots on the beach and joined his savior who was the keeper of his artistic soul, in order for the movie to be great, it must end with Marcello's figurative death and resound the ultimate despair of innocence lost.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Well, this episodic, ambitious exploration of life in Rome in 1960 hits
one bull's eye after another and emerges as one of the best films of
the 1960s, maybe one of the greatest ever. Imagine a film about boredom
that is not in itself boring.
I fear, though, that some youths may be turned off by it because so many things stand for something else that I'm tempted to bundle them up into "themes." I can see it now. A couple of kids in phat pants wearing nostril rings, their ankles garnished with tattoos of barbed wire, hitting the beer or the hi-energy drinks on the couch, munching Doritos, scowling and cursing at the film from the very start. "Hey -- this thing's in BLACK AND WHITE. They're talking Portugese. And it's got SUBTITLES!" Maybe that's unkind though. Maybe they can shake off the MTV chains and manage to sit through this and discover something they didn't know about someone's life other than their own.
Marcello Maistroianni is the central figure, a journalist with an unfocused vision, who wanders from one episode to the next, wondering what to do with his life. He meets a LOT of interesting characters along the way, each representing something else. His desperate girl friend, Emma, offers him the life of a petty bourgeois. She'll feed him, give him a home and children, and she'll grow plump with age and develop the shadow of a mustache. Marcello isn't sure what he wants but he knows he doesn't want THAT.
His "intellectual" friend, Steiner, represents someone or something that Marcello would love to become. Steiner is sensitive, artistic, talented, a writer, poet, and a musician who plays Bach in a cathedral that is acoustically active because there are no people in it. Nobody is in it -- get it, kids? Anita Ekberg is the hypermastic Sylvia, an American movie star, her head as empty as her bodice is full. She doesn't understand a word of Italian as Marcello woos her, and he can't speak English. As they're about to kiss, knee deep in water, the Fontana Trevi shuts off, night dissolves into dawn, and a pizza delivery kid has stopped his bicycle to stare at them as they swish self-consciously out of the fountain.
Religion? The cathedral may be forgotten but religion in its rawest form is not. A young brother and sister team claim to have seen the Virgin Mary in a desolate vacant lot. The paparazzi have set up bright lights, generators, and cameras all over the place. Hundreds of the lame and halt appear at the site of the miracle, hoping for a cure. The paparazzi pay the kids' mother, father, and grandfather to pose on the balcony of a soulless apartment house, pointing supposedly at the spot where the vision occurred. The fact that the photographers have them pointing in different directions makes no difference. The paparazzi suddenly run off and leave the three alone on the balcony, and Fellini lingers for a few seconds on the absurd and tragic image of three posturing human statues there, mother pointing one way, father another, grandfather praying on his knees -- all of them fakes. It rains, the hot Klieg lights begin to explode, and a riot follows in which the supplicants tear apart the tree at which the Virgin appeared, stuffing leaves into their jackets, wrestling one another for souveniers or charms.
The final scene in which Marcello watches a monstrously ugly fish hauled out of the sea and then tries to communicate with a twelve-year-old blond angel, and fails, is heartbreaking.
The film isn't about boredom. It's not even about emptiness. It's about what's missing, the thing that creates the emptiness and leads to boredom. Fellini isn't up front about it, and neither was Orson Welles when he dealt with a similar issue in "Citizen Kane." Fellini was more explicit in some of his other films -- "I Vitelloni" and "Amarcord" ("I Remember"). Traditional values, and the youthful innocence that made them possible, are being lost. Values have been cheapened. Not that those values were perfect or indeed anything but illusory, but how can we get along without our myths? We follow kids around who see the Virgin Mary and who like some politicians because they resemble "rock stars." We're losing our ability to appreciate Bach and the patience to sit through a black-and-white movie made in another country. Our assessments of other peoples has been degraded into "good" and "evil" without modulation. Our Western culture seems to have passed from naive to decadent without ever having gone through florescence. If this is what Fellini was getting at, it's no wonder the film is as sad as it is.
From so many perspectives, this film is a true artistic masterpiece, and
happily, a commercial success. Those vehement in their dislike are simply
wrong; their criticism does not hold up. Fellini and some few others,
unlike most critics, completely understood that film derives NOT from the
world of plays but from PAINTING. First time viewers - if the plot seems
confusing, should just sit back and enjoy the staggering accomplishments of
lighting, cinematography and staging. And that is leaving out of course,
acting, writing directing!
Briefly, the film follows seven aimless days and nights in the life of Marcello Rubini, a world weary Roman "reporter" who writes for gossip magazines. Yes, it does document the slow self-destruction of an unfulfilled writer, it is really a dire warning that the banality and sheer boredom of the late 20th Century were (are) likely to bore us ALL to death ... and Fellini hit the mark with perfect precision, the world's best bullseye, if you will ...
The acting is first rate, Mastroianni is so masterful, that when he uses one or two of his cliches - they stick out like sore thumbs in a towering performance. (We forgive him for those tiny imperfections!) Likewise, all the players - from leads to bit roles are brilliant.
A film then, not in this world, or really even of it, but an oblique reflection of the coming decade (the movie was shot in 1959) the details of which, Fellini already seemed to know! Staggeringly hip and modern - well, a Masterpiece!
I wanted to like this movie. I truly did.
I am currently working my way through the IMDb Top 250, and I began with "La Dolce Vita." I understand that the movie is culturally significant. I'm not some boor who only enjoys movies with exploding robots or massive amounts of T&A, nor am I a simpleton who requires straight-forward plots with happy endings. But the fact of the matter is that I found this, Fellini's purported masterpiece, to be utterly dull and non-compelling.
I won't say that the film is without merit, because there were some scenes that kept me dialed in. The desire that Marcello feels for Sylvia is one of those, and the scene where Maddalena asks Marcello to marry her is another. But these are scenes that are mired in between other muddled sequences that seem to drag on forever.
And yes, at 3 hours, this film is mercilessly long. I don't mind long films, and have happily sat through much longer. But this film indulges in the mundane. Shots, sequences, and dialogue that contribute absolutely nothing to the story are lingering and plodding. At times, I found myself having drifted off into a daydream, only to come back and find out that I had missed nothing in the intervening time. This story could be told competently, and in half the running time, if the film had any sense of pace.
Part of my apathy goes toward the general unlikability of Marcello. Especially in this day and age, who cares about those who indulge in the glitz and glamour of the film world? Do we really relate to the Marilyn Monroe expy that is Sylvia? I can't look at Marcello, who vacillates between wanting to be a writer and suddenly declaring himself to be an advertising exec and feel any kinship with him. I fear that in 2015, there are precious few people who understand or even want to know what the 1% do, especially when the educated have a hard time finding the most menial jobs. Fascination with the rich and wealthy may have found a wider audience in 1960, but does not play nearly as well to a 21st century audience.
In all honesty, this movie appears to be one of those films that people love to pretentiously declare their love for, if only to win the admiration of other people who also secretly dislike it, but wish to be admired as "film buffs" themselves. Personally, this particular film buff has no desire to ever see this movie again.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Vague spoiler alert.
The thing I really enjoy about La Dolce Vita is Marcello's struggle to let go. This happens on such a variety of levels: 1. He wants to be part of the insane society he reports on, but in their presence he seems boring and unwilling to be completely whimsical, getting wrapped up in serious declarations to frivolous movie stars.
2. Though he wants to be part of their world and be frivolous about everything, he cannot let go of his conscience, his needy girlfriend, his family, his desire for connections and stable relationships.
3. He cannot let go of his initial goal to be a writer despite his clear desire not to be.
4. When trying to write, among other situations, he needs to control everything rather than letting himself experience life.
5. When he finally achieves his idea of success, being rich and having wild parties, he is disappointed when it's not "fun" enough and tries to control the situation rather than letting himself be amused and carried along.
My view of Marcello as an indecisive control freak was not the only thing... For most of the movie Marcello does have a conscience and a heart, unlike the people whose society he craves. But by the end, Marcello has made his choice, and lost his heart and all sense of proportion. Initially one hopes Marcello will follow his admiration of Steiner... but when things go badly there, Marcello interprets that as a warning to be frivolous or else. What a sad way for him to misinterpret. Though no one wants to see him end up with Emma in a staid life as a scandal-sheet reporter, his success need not have been accompanied by a loss of heart.
Despite this depressing progression, this movie is lovely. It maintains its lightness and surprises all the way through; its personality, like Marcello's, is torn between frivolity and conscience. All the characters are beautiful and delightful. (I would marry Anouk Aimee in a second!) And despite my heavy-handed interpretation, Fellini is subtle and poignant in his criticism of Marcello, especially poignant and even generous when his father comes to visit. I recommend this movie very, very highly - an easy 10/10.
A triumph of style over substance.
One can't overcome the feeling while watching "La Dolce Vita" that Federico Fellini thinks he's being terribly intellectual and profound, but there's precious little going on in this film's head. It's telling that on a second viewing, when I thought I would discover nuance and detail I missed the first time around, I was instead bored and found myself counting down the minutes until the film was over.
Fellini seems to be criticizing a decadent, empty modern society in which ideas have died. Fair enough. But if he's going to make that point -- and drag it out for over three hours, no less -- perhaps he would have been wise to choose someone other than the rich, privileged class to make the point with. The grand conclusion he comes to in his film is that money, wealth and status aren't enough to give a life meaning or purpose, and don't offer anything to offset the void of boredom that they create. This isn't news. Has there ever been a time in history when the privileged classes haven't been bored? I thought the strongest sequence in the film was that depicting the media frenzy that erupts when two children see the Madonna in an empty field. It reminded me of a news story that occurred just a few months ago here in Chicago when a similar frenzy erupted over a water stain in the shape of the Virgin Mary that formed on the wall of an Interstate overpass. Fellini beautifully caught the utter absurdity of people trying to convince themselves that what they want to believe is true, and the sadness that this need is necessary in the first place.
In the film's final sequence, Marcello Mastroianni's character tells the people he's partying with that they're the most boring people alive. I second that. Too bad that a movie about boring, vacuous people makes for a boring, vacuous movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"-What now? -Drive, or stay here."
Marcello Rubini is the outsider looking in. He is a character torn between the the safety of the center and the lure of freedom found in eccentricity.
The Rome in which he moves is created by centrifugal movement. The center of this space is shifting, mobile, never remaining in one place for long. It is located wherever what happens to be in vogue at any given moment happens to be, as Marcello moves through it throughout the episodic and discontinuous plot of the movie. Whether it's the arrival of an American movie star (Sylvia) to Rome, the apparition of the virgin Mary, or the latest adventures of the rich and famous in the bars on Via Veneto, Marcello is there, accompanied by his trusty photographer, Paparazzo. Marcello spends a great amount of his time in his car, moving from one assignment to the next. He circles Rome as a perpetual wanderer, a modern Oddysseus. This circulating movement is opposed to the place that is supposed to be his immobile place of refuge, his flat, a place he hardly ever enters during the film, except on a few occasions such as to save his fiancée from suicide in one of the film's early scenes. His life, as a journalist, as perpetually unfaithful lover, and as the film's anti-hero, consists of a dialectic between these two modes of habitation. "Journalism pays well if you're good", Marcello tells his father in one scene in the film. "I have and a car, and a flat - una macchina, e uno appartamento." Indeed, and the tension between these two modes of habitation is what structures his days and the film.
Sometimes, however, the categories can shift, or be transformed into one another, like in the early scene when Marcello and Maddalena meet the whore and agree to drive her home. The whore is so impressed with the luxuriousness of Maddalena's car that she exclaims that "it's not a car, it's an apartment!" Indeed, and Maddalena, like Marcello, is perhaps only really at home when she is in motion. This occurs shortly after a conversation where Marcello and Maddalena debate the advantages of rest versus movement. "-I need an island", Maddalena proposes. "Buy one", Marcello responds. "I've thought of it. But would I stay on it?"
The center, by contrast, is epitomized by Marcello's friend Steiner. Indeed, the essential scene where Marcello and his fiancée visit Steiner's apartment is located temporally at the dead center of the movie. It is the eye of the storm, the still point where the ceaseless motion of the rest of the movie comes to a halt. However, later on it really becomes a truly "dead center", a place of death, as Steiner kills his children and then himself.
The (lost) center for Italian men is the place of the wife and the mother. La Dolce Vita also amounts to one long caricature of these men, sometimes going into open ridicule. Let's recall Marcello's tender declaration to Sylvia: "You are everything. You are the first woman on the first day of the creation. You are mother, sister, lover, friend, angel, devil, earth, home." This speech, though wonderful, is also superbly comical, not least because Silvia doesn't understand a word of Italian. Marcello is ultimately only talking to himself, and if someone was really listening, one doubts that he would find the nerve to speak. His speech is echoed and turned even sillier by another character in the movie. One of the guests at Steiner's party is an old, ridiculous professor. An oriental-looking girl has been brought to the party to entertain, and with her sitting at his feet, the professor passionately declares: "The only true woman is the oriental woman. Where was Eve? In the garden of Eden. That was in the east. There, love is truly at once mysterious, maternal, lover, daughter, oriental women crouches at your feet like an infatuated tigress." For Marcello, this woman, in the form of Silvia, comes from the west, for the professor, she comes from the east the direction of the compass doesn't matter, she doesn't really come from anywhere but their own dreams.
Marcello's view of this is ambiguous, but for the viewer the effect seems clear. The deep irony of the movie places the idea of the center where it belongs: it's the old idea of the essence, that can only belong in the junkyard of European metaphysics. In light of this realization, it's impossible for this movie to have a happy ending, it must turn on itself and take itself apart. The remaining part of the scene at Steiner's house becomes tainted with melancholy. Not much later, of course, the dream of the quiet center receives its death blow, with Steiner's murder of his children and his following suicide. The rest of the movie, with its culmination in the famous "orgy scene", is a story if disillusionment and destruction.
The movie is filled with gestures of broken illusions. When Marcello retreats to the ocean to find peace to write, he encounters a beautiful young girl who works as a waitress, and for a moment he pictures her to be "as beautiful as an angel from an Umbrian church". The illusion doesn't last. Before long, she is revealed to be just a normal little girl who wants to dance to the latest tunes on the jukebox, human, even possible to love, but no angel. And yet and yet at the very end, it is once again morning. The exhausted party guests go out to the beach, and the last thing we see is the face of Marcello's "Umbrian Angel", as she tries to get in touch with Marcello, her words drowned out by the sound of the waves. We do, finally, not know what Marcello thinks in this moment. Perhaps there is still some hope, if not in delusion, then in truth.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie ruined film for me.
For a couple of weeks after seeing "La Dolce Vita" at the Bay Theatre in Seal Beach, I tried to avoid seeing movies. Because I deeply enjoy film, however, I was unable to successfully sit out two weeks of viewing, so I saw "Broken Blossoms" and "Trainspotting". Due to the inexpressionable impression "La Dolce Vita" left in my memory, I was disappointed by both films (before you start screaming, "Trainspotting" is also in my top twenty of all time). Watching "La Dolce Vita" was like eating the greatest meal of my life: nothing tasted quite as good afterward.
This film engaged me at all possible levels. It was intellectually stimulating, with endless symbols and philosophical content. Marcello descends into a fantasy world every night, only to ascend to the harsh light of reality in the morning, over and over again. Women, religion, family, work, nothing offers real satisfaction, but only a temporary escape from the dull routine of life. Whether it is Steiner or his fiancé, Marcello ultimately finds that nothing is what it appears and that, when dawn breaks, he is back where he began, searching vainly for meaning until he is left with a life of debauchery devoid of hope, an unidentifiable monster of nature, unable to even comprehend hope or innocence.
It was also technically stunning. Many of the shots are among the most gorgeous ever committed to celluloid. Of course, the scene in the fountain with the beautiful movie star stands out, but so do many others: the ascent in the tower to overlook Rome, the aristocratic party in the old mansion. The acting is flawless, from Marcello down to the smallest bit part.
It was also entertaining. In spite of the heaviness of the philosophical material, Fellini successfully injected a surprising amount of humor. I found myself, and the audience around me, laughing out loud on a number of occasions. Anyone who isn't completely charmed by the night-time dance scene with the movie star is more jaded that Marcello at the end of the film. I found myself with a giant, irrepressible grin on my face at the conclusion of that scene, and realized that I, like Marcello, had been seduced by the beauty and joy of the moment.
This movie is perfect. People have criticized it for meandering about for three hours, but this is precisely the point. We are following Marcello, who is meandering through life, looking for something that he cannot find. At the end, he is left with a life as inexplicable and unattractive as the strange sea monster on the beach, and we are left with startling memories of an unforgettable film.
Rome. Marcello, a persistent journalist, is always on the look out for
a hot story. He finds his suicidal girlfriend poisoned by pills in his
apartment and manages to save her from sure death by bringing her to
the hospital. But he doesn't have time for mourning: he catches a plane
the next day to talk to the famous star Sylvia, but her husband beats
him up in the end. Marcello rushes to one place where a girl had a
vision of the holly Mary, then is later on interrupted by a visit from
his father. Marcello tries to write a book and end a relationship with
Federico Fellini is a tremendously talented director, but in my opinion more successful in his first film-making phase of realistic, simple films with heart ( shining La Strada" and La Notti Di Cabiria" ) than in his second from Da Dolce Vita" ( 1960 ), in which he went on producing weird, surreal and heavily pretentious satires and farces. The only excellent film from his second phase is Amarcord", which ironically reminds us of his first phase of realistic films. La Dolce Vita" is a quality drama that criticizes an empty society that feeds on shallow, sensation oriented stories from the press and media ( the word Paparazzi", used for the first time here, later on even became a part of the dictionary ). In that aspect, it doesn't attack the journalists as much as the society that fuels them. But although Vita" won the Golden Palm in Cannes and was nominated for an Oscar for best director, set design and script, it feels rather shallow and empty itself.
Many sequences are great - for example, the opening shot in which a helicopter is shown carrying a statue of Jesus Christ, or the one where a man is protecting" his face from the photographers by placing a newspaper in front of himself as are some details but Fellini decided to put too much of his ideas in the story, causing it to go out of control. After 165 minutes of screen time the movie loses it's energy and becomes a little bit of a bore. I guess the ending scene with that rotten fish sums it up for me: subversive and profound, but too pretentious for it's own good.
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