Wednesday, March 30, 2011

REVIEW: La Dolce Vita

(dir. Federico Fellini, 1961)

Over and over again, La Dolce Vita has been vetted as a masterpiece and as Fellini's most outstanding work.  Entertainment Weekly thought so much of it, that Dolce landed at #6 on their list of the 100 Greatest Movies of All Time, behind the likes of Raging Bull, Chinatown, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, and The Godfather.  Pretty good company, huh?

It stars Marcello Mastroianni, one of Italy's great actors and the recognizable face from Fellini's equally famous follow-up, 8 1/2, as journalist and Man About Town Marcello Rubini.  The film is broken down into a series of 7 days complete with dawn, afternoon, and night; often, and most interestingly, the blurry line between the transition of these times is jumped.  In true Fellini fashion, the audience is told to accept the minute magical elements, and trust that it's part of the theme.  The most wonderful of these moments feature Mastroianni and Swedish-cum-Marilyn Monroe look-a-like Anita Ekberg (as film superstar, paparazzi magnet, and resident life-loving bimbo Sylvia) wading in the Trevi Fountain in the middle of the night.  Sylvia seemingly christens Marcello with a trickle of water, and boom suddenly we go from night to dawn.

The film focuses on the new (new as in, late 50s early 60s) moral standard of Italy, and often finds juxtapositions with the prior moral standard of the ruling Catholic Church.  The Church's presence isn't surprising, given that somewhere in most Fellini film you're bound to stumble on the Catholic Church and probably Catholic Guilt.  But nevertheless, the film opens with the second coming of Christ, or as Fellini frames it, a helicopter flying a statue of outstretched Jesus through Rome.  

Marcello and Sylvia in the fountain
But what's so fascinating about the film is how well the new moral order comes to order, and how unaffected Marcello seems by it.  For starters, he cheats on his fiancée in the first scene of the film, tries to seduce Sylvia, participates in a quasi-seance, and is seduced by a self-proclaimed whore.  If his actions weren't enough, he is surrounded by immorality, from his fiancée nearly overdosing to one of his dearest friends committing suicide.  And as we settle in for the final scene of the film, we see that Marcello's moral wall has come crashing down when   trying to liven up a late-night party   suggests a striptease and public sex take place.  In this final scene, he proceeds to literally feather a drunk girl as he violently tell her to sober up.

As smart, rich, and clever as it was, I couldn't make myself love it.  It didn't have the heart most other Fellini films have, and I thought it unusually cold.  Sure the ending may be hopeful, but it's also one of total doubt for the future not only of this man, but of the Italy he represents.  The segments never totally blended together for me, and I found it rather difficult to know when a new one has landed.  I imagine that's no mistake on Fellini's end, since giving the film a fluidity could suggest a mirroring of Marcello's lifestyle.  One aspect of the film I did adore, though, were the Oscar-winning costumes (a rare feat in that category for a modern-day film, the award is usually taken by heavy period pieces).  Marcello's suits were killer, and Sylvia's dress was...breathtaking, for a myriad of reasons.  If you like this, or want to test the waters with other Fellini works, I suggest 8 1/2, I Vitelloni, and Satyricon.  GRADE: B


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