La Dolce Vita

Released:  1960

Cast:  Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimee, Yvonne Furneaux, Magali Noel, Alain Cuny, Nadia Gray

Oscar Wins:  Best Costume Design, Black-and-White (Piero Gherardi)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Director (Federico Fellini), Best Original Screenplay (Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano, Brunello Rondi), Best Art Direcion-Set Decoration, Black-and-White (Piero Gherardi)

SUMMARY:  Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni) is a gossip journalist who lives in Rome.  He spends most of his time chasing down stories with his photographer Paparazzo and pursuing women, even though he is engaged.  As the film opens, a statue of Christ is being transported by helicopter; Marcello follows in another helicopter.  When he sees a group of women sunbathing on the roof of a building, he tries to get their phone numbers as he passes by.  Later, Marcello is in a nightclub when he runs into bored heiress Maddalena (Anouk Aimee).  The two leave together, and after giving a prostitute a ride home, spend the night together in the prostitute’s house.  When Marcello goes home, he finds that Emma (Yvonne Furneaux, his fiancée, has tried to commit suicide by overdosing.  He immediately takes her to the hospital, telling her that he loves her over and over again on the way.  However, while waiting for news at the hospital, he tries to call Maddalena.  Marcello’s next assignment is the arrival of Swedish-American actress Sylvia (Anita Ekberg), who has just arrived in Rome for her latest movie.  He attends a press conference held in Sylvia’s hotel room, where he calls Emma to check on her.  The suspicious Emma believes that Marcello is alone with Sylvia, though he repeatedly tells her otherwise.  On Marcello’s recommendation, Sylvia takes a tour of St. Peter’s, accompanied by the various members of the press.  Only Marcello is able to keep up with her as she climbs the stairs, and as they spend time together, away from everybody else, he begins to fall for her.  That night the two attend a party together, along with other movie personnel.  While Marcello and Sylvia dance together, Sylvia’s boyfriend Robert is more interested in drawing and reading a newspaper.  Sylvia decides to leave the party, and after they lose the rest of the group, she and Marcello wade into the Trevi Fountain.  At dawn they return to Sylvia’s hotel, only to find an irate Robert waiting for them.  Robert is furious that Sylvia has stayed out all night with Marcello, and hits both of them.

Marcello meets his friend Steiner (Alain Cuny) in a church, where he listens as Steiner plays Bach on the pipe organ.  Steiner is an intellectual, and while the two are friends, they do not get to spend much time together.  That same day, Marcello, Paparazzo and Emma go into the country to cover the story of a reported sighting of the Madonna.  The Catholic Church officially denies this sighting, but that doesn’t stop a huge crowd of both spectators and media personnel from gathering.  That night, the two children who saw the Madonna see her again, and the crowd erupts.  They attack the tree she was said to have appeared under, destroying it in their attempts to grab a piece.  A sick boy who was brought to the sight is trampled in the process.  Some time later Marcello and Emma attend a party at Steiner’s house.  Emma is taken with Steiner’s children and his domestic life, and tells Marcello that they will have that someday.  Meanwhile, Marcello tells Steiner that he admires the man’s ideals, but Steiner responds with his own fears of being stuck in mediocrity.  On another night, Marcello’s father visits him in Rome.  The two, and Paparazzo, go to a cabaret together, where they meet another of Marcello’s former flames.  This woman takes a liking to his father, and even takes him back to her house.  However, the man falls ill (perhaps a mild heart attack), and despite Marcello’s requests to stay at his house, insists on returning home immediately.  On a different occasion, Marcello attends a party at a castle owned by an aristocratic family.  Maddalena also happens to be at the party, and the two go off exploring together.  Maddalena asks Marcello to marry her; he responds by saying that he loves her, but never really answers the question.  Ultimately, Maddalena finds another man, while Marcello spends the night with another partygoer.  All of this leads to a confrontation between Marcello and Emma.  Emma is tired of Marcello’s philandering, and he is tired of her dramatics.  He ultimately forces her out of the car, but comes back for her several hours later.  The two return home together.  Marcello is awakened by a phone call, telling him that Steiner shot himself and his two children while his wife was away.  Marcello rushes over, and agrees to go with a police officer to break the news to Mrs. Steiner.  Some time later — his hair is now going gray — Marcello and a group of drunk friends break into the house of another friend, who is out of town.  They celebrate the divorce of a friend with a striptease, and Marcello proposes several sexual encounters.  However, the others ignore him and he ends up throwing feathers from a pillow all over the room.  In the morning, the entire group goes to the  beach, where they watch as a group of fishermen pull in a huge ray (manta?) before leaving to continue their party.

MY TAKE:  Apparently this is regarded as one of the greatest films of all time.  However, as I expected, I did not particularly enjoy it.  I am apparently not a Fellini fan, as I don’t seem to grasp the underlying symbolism and philosophizing of his films.  According to Wikipedia, Marcello is dealing with an existential crisis in this film.  It seems to me like he got caught up in life in the fast lane, and pissed everything away.  He did have a career and a (somewhat crazy) fiancée; by the end of the film it is hinted that he has lost the fiancée and most of the prestige he once commanded.  I would suggest that not sleeping with everything female that walks past you would probably help things:  at least you would receive a little more respect from people.  He never seems to do any real work, which is maybe why he ends up as a publicity agent.  Instead, he spends all of his tie either chasing the women or going to parties, which usually involve really drunk rich people acting stupid.  Were he to take a camera to these parties and work, instead of drink, his career would probably have been off the charts.  It’s just really hard for me to sympathize with somebody like that.  Interestingly, this film is responsible for the term “paparazzi”, used to describe the (often near-rabid) journalists and photographers who follow celebrities.  I thought that the character named Paparazzo was just a cheap attempt at irony, but apparently that character actually inspired the word (it didn’t exist before then).

RATING:  Lousy.  And long.



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