“Don’t be like me… 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.” is at the core of the movie. Perhaps it shall explain the episodic nature of La Dolce Vita: under its very entertaining surface is the tragic decline of journalist/novelist Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni) in terms of his art and personal life. The decline must come in degrees and human life,- its success or failure , is not seamless as one might think.
Marcello and a swarm of photographers sit around on the Via Veneto all hours of the night, waiting for celebrity news to happen. The emptiness of contemporary Roman life is well drawn whether out in the streets or in the intellectual set of Streiner. Marcello’s vain search for fulfillment is the movie’s great tragedy. He dreams of becoming a serious writer, but hasn’t the courage to pursue it. He is too busy trying to become part of the ‘sweet life’. A lot of his time is spent in the arms of beautiful, bored society women such as Maddalena (Anouk Aimée), despite his engagement to the overly-possessive Emma (Yvonne Furneaux).
When Steiner murders his children and commits suicide in desperation, Marcello is left directionless. The following scene when the photographers are scurrying around the mother as she is informed that her children have been murdered is one of the most chilling and (unfortunately) prophetic scenes and it anticipates the degrading, voyeuristic nature of the modern news media.
At the film’s conclusion, the defeated Marcello ends up on a beach the morning after a drunken orgy. He collapses in the sand with a self-mocking laugh. The ultimate sadness of the movie is apparent when he glimpses the innocent Paola in the distance, calling to him (he cannot hear over the roar of the sea). Marcello waves to her in recognition, but then is forced to turn away, ashamed with himself. He wanders back to his crowd of shallow party people to go on the same old way.
La Dolce Vita is a modern parable. Fellini cinematically loads it with irony and brittleness of la dolce vita. Whenever a movie of this high calibre and of gradations is handled by a Fellini or Antonioni one may be pardoned if the reviewer looks for comparison from Dante. The Italian humanism that Divine Comedy has inculcated, ever since Dante is hard to resist. The protagonist is somewhat like Dante and the high society of a decadent post-war Rome could be hell.
Dante had Beatrice, Paola (Valeria Ciangottini) as she is called here, whom Fellini introduces toward the middle and also at the end. She appears first as a fresh-faced girl in the café, conjuring up visions of a nuova vita of what could be. She represents a simpler life away from the city and the over-complications of modern existence. Marcello is impressed with her innocence and gaiety but has his daily grind to attend to.
The modern Beatrice appears once again and waves to Marcello on the beach in the film’s final scene: she 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.
Marcello is the modern, urban human, trapped in an absurd universe. He has chosen a miserable life because of his livelihood and in the process inflicts misery on those who mean most to him. If he slowly becomes trapped in his free amoral lifestyle how far is he responsible? Interesting question,- and Fellini analyses the society neither with contempt or with affection.
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 as always memorable. Fellini is known for his free directorial style and never being bound by written word. Spontaneity therefore is at premium and he builds film in series of ideas like a Seurat’s painting, letting them acquire an increased significance in the way they are juxtaposed:
The film’s opening scene shows of a giant image of Christ being airlifted and in a series of shots leisurely lingering over the ruins and burgeoning townships and blocks of apartments we follow the crew of reporters in another chopper: they are more keen to ogle at the sunbathers thus introducing the basic dichotomy: lust for life where religion has its part and also for sins of the flesh. Either way it is shallow and impersonal. The most memorable sequence features Anita Ekberg as an impossibly beautiful Hollywood starlet at the fountain of Trevi. Sylvia (Ekberg),has descended on Rome on a promotional stop for her new movie. The press junket soon turns into a drunken nighttime party. After an enormously entertaining dance sequence (it’s a wonderful moment when you realise you have been seduced into this sweet life), Marcello and Sylvia escape to wander the deserted streets of Rome. She, seeming to epitomise the profane love in contrast to Paola the sacred love. When Marcello takes her back to the hotel her drunken husband knocks him down, a scene that brings the paparazzi, colleagues of Marcello all scurrying around to get their best shot.
Marcello soon becomes disenchanted by his spiritually empty life and looks to the intellectual family man Steiner as a role mode. Steiner is the key figure in the film. 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. 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 the quote I cited at the outset.
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.
Fellini’s La Dolce Vita was made in 1959 and released in 1960. It is the ultimate cinematic portrait of a milieu, in this instance Rome in the 1950s. Some historical perspective: Rome became the international celebrity capital in the 1950s because Italy’s post-war exchange controls meant that a large proportion of Hollywood profits had to stay in Italy to finance films. Production was cheap (no Screen Actor’s Guild), the technicians were able, and the facilities of Cinecittà Studios were more than adequate for large-scale spectacles such as Quo Vadis (1950) and Ben-Hur (1959). So Hollywood’s stars ended up in Rome for long periods of time. Thus La Dolce Vita, a lifestyle of money, sex and indulgence was a natural outgrowth of post-war boom. Fellini as a true artist rises above moral issues to tell a story through a series of images and leaves the audience to make their own interpretations.
This was also a great age of domestic Italian cinema: De Sica, Rossellini, Visconti, Monicelli, and of course Fellini, who was responsible for such films as La Strada (1954) and Nights of Cabiria (1957). La Dolce Vita was the last of his neo-realist films.
Federico Fellini (story) &
Ennio Flaiano (story) …
19 April 1961 (USA) more
Won Oscar. Another 6 wins & 7 nominations more
Cast (in credits order) (verified as complete)
Marcello Mastroianni … Marcello Rubini
Anita Ekberg … Sylvia
Anouk Aimée … Maddalena (as Anouk Aimee)
Yvonne Furneaux … Emma
Magali Noël … Fanny (as Magali Noel)
Alain Cuny … Steiner
Annibale Ninchi … Marcello’s father
Walter Santesso … Paparazzo
Valeria Ciangottini … Paola
Riccardo Garrone … Riccardo
Ida Galli … Debuttante of the Year
Audrey McDonald … Jane (as Audey McDonald)
Polidor … Clown
Alain Dijon … Frankie Stout
Enzo Cerusico … Newspaper photographer
Giulio Paradisi … Newspaper photographer
Enzo Doria … Newspaper photographer
Enrico Glori … Nadia’s Admirer
Adriana Moneta … Ninni
Massimo Busetti … Lying Child of The Miracle
Mino Doro … Nadia’s lover
Giulio Girola … Police Commissioner
Laura Betti … Laura
Nico … Herself (as Nico Otzak)
Domino … Transvestite dancer
Carlo Musto … Transvestite
Lex Barker … Robert
Jacques Sernas … Matinee Idol
Nadia Gray … Nadia
Marcello Rubini: You are the first woman on the first day of creation. You are mother, sister, lover, friend, angel, devil, earth, home.
Steiner: 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.
Transvestite: By 1965 there’ll be total depravity. How squalid everything will be.
Marcello Rubini: [to Emma] A man who agrees to live like this is a finished man, he’s nothing but a worm! I don’t believe in your aggressive, sticky, maternal love! I don’t want it, I have no use for it! This isn’t love, it’s brutalization!
Steiner: We must get beyond passions, like a great work of art. In such miraculous harmony. We should love each other outside of time… detached.