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Me and Fellini are not the best of friends. His movies are highly acclaimed, but generally fails to drag me into their universe. Usually, it would seem, I simply get annoyed with the characters and start shouting at them to get their act together, something I doubt was the intention with the movies. With “La Dolce Vita” I get the feeling that this is exactly the intention.
I would not go so far as to say that I liked “La Dolce Vita”, but at least I see the point and it is a point well made. It is comedic, but so bitter and acerbic that the laughter gets stuck in the throat. The rich and famous, the public and their intermediaries, the journalists, all get skewered in this biting satire, to the extent that I feel sorry for the lot rather than amused.
“La Dolce Vita” has no story arc, at least none that I could recognize, but is instead a 2 hours and 47 minutes tour through the idle depravity of the rich and famous and the sycophantic and parasitic envy of the public. Our eyes are those of Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni). He had aspirations of being a writer of novels, but earns a living as a gossip journalist. In that function he insinuates himself into the lives of the idle rich, but as an outside observer. It is clear from the beginning that a large part of him wants their lives and even pretends that he is part of it. This despite that he has a conventional fiancé at home (Yvonne Furneaux as Emma) burning with frustration that Marcello is out there partying instead of being home with her.
Marcello’s aspiration is pathetic and naïve as demonstrated by his infatuation with the over-dimensioned Sylvia (Anita Ekberg). He is virtually invisible to her, only to be used as a mirror of her own vanity. Later, in the course of the movie Marcello gets sucked into that world so that by the end he is no longer an observer but an integral part of it.
Is it then all he ever dreamt of? Who is to say. Marcello has clarity enough to care for his fiancé and appreciate the life she stands for. He has an encounter with his father that makes him realize what he has been missing in his life and most importantly he and Emma makes a visit to Marcello’s friend Steiner (Alain Cuny), a man who seems to have found all the true values in life: his children, nature, poetry and science. Marcello and especially Emma are full of admiration. Yet Marcello throws it all away for an empty, idle and ultimately stupid life in the fast lane. The glamour is simply too alluring.
The public fascination with the Dolce Vita of the idle rich is represented by the ever-present photographers who like insects swarm around them, latching on to everything they do. They manipulate and they are manipulated in that common interest of providing a show for the public. No more clearly demonstrated than in the scene of miracle in the fields. To me this was straight out of “Ace in the Hole”. The media here has no decency what so ever and it is no coincidence that the term paparazzi was originally a name of one of the photographers in this movie.
Fellini is spot on. History has proven him right except in one point. The depravity of the world was not complete by 1965. It could and would get a lot worse. Yet, I am not entirely sold by the movie. It is an uncomfortable movie to watch. The fun is not fun at all and the movie is so long that I got the point a long time before it ends. It is also rather depressing to watch. There is no redemption for these people. Even Steiner succumbs in the end and in this closed world of Fellini we are all heading straight for Armageddon. From an artistic point of view you cannot but admire Fellini, but this is no Sunday afternoon watch.
If we forget the story a bit there is a lot to enjoy in “La Dolce Vita”. First of all sheer amount of beautiful women. Anita Ekberg is way over the top, but for all the other roles Fellini has really gone out of his way to find quality actresses for this movie. That is of course part of the message. Beauty is surface and surface is all these people have. It is a bitter sweet truth, but quite enjoyable nonetheless.
There is also a strange fascination with all this depraved entertainment. Some of the costumes are really out there and the characters are quite imaginative. In their boredom they are really exploring the fringes of entertainment.
I doubt Fellini and I will ever be truly good friends, but at least with movies like this one I can respect him and that counts for something.