La Dolce Vita (1961)
Release Date: April 19th, 1961 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Federico Fellini Actors: Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimee, Yvonne Furneaux, Magali Noel, Lex Barker, Annibale Ninchi, Nadia Gray
helicopter transports a statue of Jesus to the pope. Journalist Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni) is aboard a second aircraft following it, for the sake of news, and later stakes out a spot at a fancy restaurant to photograph a prince. He meets up with wealthy girlfriend Maddalena (Anouk Aimee), who is decidedly bored with their routine and with Rome itself. The duo spontaneously offers a ride to a prostitute and winds up spending the night in her flooded, rundown dwelling. When Rubini returns home, he discovers that his fiancée Emma (Yvonne Furneaux) has poisoned herself; despite professing his love for her, he steps out of her room to phone Maddalena.
The following morning, Swedish-American movie star Sylvia Frank (Anita Ekberg) soaks up the attention from raving reporters and photographers as she disembarks from a plane at the airport. Marcello is tasked with taking her sightseeing, starting at St. Peter’s for a vertiginous ascent and ending at a spacious outdoor stage (the touristy Baths of Caracalla) where a live band performs. Marcello gets a moment to dance with her, actor friend Frankie Stout (Alain Dijon) joins the revelry, and Sylvia’s boyfriend Robert (Lex Barker), unimpressed and unenthusiastic, drunkenly insults her. Infuriated, Sylvia runs out, where Marcello picks her up and drives her into town, devoid of his squad of paparazzi cameramen, where they wade through the enormous Trevi Fountain (in perhaps the most iconic sequence of the film).
The film follows other events that cross Marcello’s path, with his involvement governed by predetermined levels of newsworthiness or the cavorting that fills up the time between prospective documentations. In his journey across the city, he chronicles religious fanatics; the interactions of celebrities; and rich, intellectual, socially influential, aristocratic, eccentric (alcoholic) people enjoying luxurious leisure in grand estates. He’s momentarily sidetracked by the arrival of his estranged father, but quickly gets back to inserting himself in parties and gatherings worth recording.
The paparazzi spoil respect and dash aside privacy, while designing a fakeness and undeniable manipulation to publicity and celebrity. In one scene, two children claiming to have seen the Madonna are quickly overwhelmed by the press. The once deserted, unknown spot where their sighting allegedly occurred is turned into a media circus, resulting in tragedy that recalls Billy Wilder’s “Ace in the Hole.” Fleeting, orchestrated fame, and earned adoration through widespread product dissemination lead to the same hysteria, regardless of endurance or significant originations.
There’s a casual, unhurried tone to the meditations and observations on affluence and the lack thereof; love and its absence; living life and merely moving through it; and bitter jealousy and intense passion. Reminiscing serves to bring further melancholiness to the plentitude of ideas and themes at work in “La Dolce Vita,” but most are meandering and aloof. The condemnation of contentment achieved through material abundance; giving up on the search for adventure; and the examination of the confusing, unexplainable, unpredictable mindset of those who attain too much seems to pervade the celebratory visuals at times, but the focus rarely deviates from inebriated merrymaking.
It’s difficult not to be instantly infatuated with Sylvia in the same manner that Marcello is, immediately engulfed by her sensuality, carefree attitude, incautious wandering, and unhesitant pursuit of any random activity that pleases her at a particular moment. She represents the quintessential romantic conquest, which couldn’t come at a more complicated time for Rubini as he already juggles relationships with two other women – before continuing the quest for more, without truly knowing what he seeks. Mastroianni also possesses a certain magnetism, drifting through peculiar assemblies with wild but unmemorable individuals. Ultimately, since the protagonist ramblingly maneuvers through strange scenarios without imparting definitive intentions, the ending becomes a statement – one of failure to effectively connect with others – that feels largely implied, as opposed to purposefully communicated by the director. The aesthetic of a structureless arrangement of episodes overshadows commentary on vanishing morals and societal decay – and a genuine story – to the point that many viewers will miss the message (and the overall entertainment value) while waiting for a resolution.
– Mike Massie