La Dolce Vita (Italy, 1960) ****
Directed and co-written by Federico Fellini. Photography, Otello Martelli. Producers, Giuseppe Amata, Angelo Rizzoli. Music, Nino Rota. Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimee and many others. Subtitled. 3 hours. Not rated.
There are two famous statues of the Christ. The colossal one, a welcoming Christ the Redeemer, stands on top of the Corcovado mountain in Brazil’s Rio De Janeiro. The other exists only in La Dolce Vita. At the film’s start a helicopter flies low over the city of Rome, lifting a statue, and taking it somewhere. What a great way to get going. And what a contrast between it and what’s happening below!
La Dolce Vita is a classic. And a turning point for Fellini (1920-1993) In Italy, and during the Mussolini years, much of the cinema consisted of innocuous, politically safe comedies – the so-called “white telephone” films so named because the leisure characters used elegant and pricey white instruments rather than the standard black ones. Curiously, while Italy was still in World War II, then when peace came, several movies introduced Neo-Realism, a genre that influenced films all over the world. Federico Fellini’s early films, all original, were, in their way, neorealistic in one way or another. But with “La Dolce Vita” he squarely switched styles and content to (roughly speaking) fantasy that gave birth to three new terms adopted in all languages: “Felliniesque,” “la dolce vita” (the sweet life), and “paparazzi.”
The central figure here is played by Marcello Mastroianni (1924-1996) whose name is Marcello. He is a sort of reporter, a mix of gossip/society columnist, “bon vivant” and womanizer. His photographer’s name is Paparazzo, a name that rapidly became synonymous with celebrity-hunting snapshooters that, the world over are now called, in the plural, “paparazzi.”
Marcello is the main thread of the movie, one that explores the post-war high (or affluent) society (and its hangers-on) that has recovered from World War II within a now- prosperous Italy. Money, sex, “fun,” glamour and the like are the order of the day. Coincidentally, 1960 was the year of “L’Avventura” by another master filmmaker, Michelangelo Antonioni who, in very different ways explores the emptiness of the leisure class. What those movies do is to propel a new Italian genre, that of the Italian New Wave. (The term appeared in the late 1950s as the French New Wave. It soon spread to some other countries, from Germany to Japan, etc.)
What Marcello does (or does not) is the major thread of –to borrow Antonioni’s title—an adventure which covers many people, many illusions and delusions, and many venues, including the famed Via Veneto where café-society gathers and where
relationships are often born… and often die. All this as seen by the merciless eyes and recorded by the merciless ears of Fellini. An inventive Fellini who disrespects character after character while creating many unforgettable scenes, whether that of star Anita Ekberg frolicking inside the famed Trevi Fountain or Marcello realizing the nothingness that is his.