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"LA DOLCE VITA is neither terrible nor overrated. There is something to be said for the pretty large number of film fans who love this one. It is an episodic film, but that is a feature of much of Fellini. In several films, Fellini builds his meaning in this way: not so much with a single continuing plot, but with a series of smaller stories that add up to a total collection of ideas.
Maybe the secret (if there is one) of LA DOLCE VITA's appeal is that it's so darned interesting all the time. This especially applies to the plot concerning Steiner. Steiner is the key figure in the film, apart from Marcello himself, who is Fellini's and the viewer's counterpart. What Steiner represents to Marcello is of prime importance. 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 insufferablty pretentious 'intellectual' types. (the famous Fellini 'careless' post-dubbing of dialogue in this scene particularly amusing: it seems to add to these characters' disconnection from a true self, as though they don't even realize what they are actually saying). 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:
"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."
This gives Marcello much to contemplate for the rest of the film. And 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. Marcello is the modern, urban human, trapped in an absurd universe. But Fellini, seems not fully despairing in his outlook. Consider, for example, the significance of Marcello's interaction with the blonde girl in the cafe--she represents a simpler life away from the city and the over-complications of modern existence. Many viewers have missed the fact that it is this same girl who waves to Marcello on the beach in the film's final scene: she waves and 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. LA DOLCE VITA is a great film for the way it pulls some viewers in and forces them to contemplate the actual content of what they are seeing. The film's main theme is one it shares with fims of Antonioni: modern man has become disconnected from the natural world and he suffers because of it. 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 among the most memorable of all time."
The gist: simply one of the greatest films ever made
Robert Moore | Chicago, IL USA | 01/08/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The is a movie of stunning images that taken together provide a stunning and ironical montage of "the good life." In fact, by the end I was reminded simultaneously of Thoreau's statement that the mass of people live lives of quiet desperation and Kierkegaard's belief that the natural condition of human beings is that of despair. There is no plot. The movie consists of a series of loosely or unconnected scenes with little or not attempt to link them. Many of the scenes are stunning. Some are disturbing. None of them are boring, which is remarkable given the length of the film (166 minutes).The beginning is memorable, with a helicopter flying over Rome with a statue of Christ hanging underneath. A celebrity journalist, portrayed brilliantly by Marcello Mastroianni (the original producer, Dino de Laurentiis, pulled out of the project when Fellini refused to cast Paul Newman in the lead role), is following the statue in order to write about it, but he and his team get distracted by women sunbathing in bikinis on a rooftop. In this and many other scenes, the tremendous gap between traditional and historical symbols of meaning and current preoccupation with mere pleasure is articulated. The overwhelming sense in the film is of the tremendous triviality of these people's lives and the loss of moral purpose. There are only two exceptions in the film: Marcello's close friend Steiner, whose life is a search for meaning and truth, and a young girl Marcello first meets at a restaurant where she is a food server and then sees again in the last few moments of the film. But Steiner's search is a futile one, leading him not merely to kill himself but his two children as well. And the young girl is not merely a symbol of innocence, but of innocence lost, not to be found again. In the last few seconds of the film, after a drunken debauch, Marcello walks to the seashore at dawn. There he sees the young girl across a watery divide. She waves to him, and tries to shout something to him. But her words are drowned by the waves and the wind, and eventually they both smile, realizing that they he will never be able to hear what she has to say. The way that Marcello wistfully shrugs his shoulders is almost an acknowledgement that he is one of the damned. It is one of the most heartbreaking moments in modern film, as well as one of the most poignant.Rome itself is as prominent in this film as any of the characters, but it is not the Rome one finds in ROMAN HOLIDAY. Much of the city looks not historic or beautiful, but antiseptic, shoddily fabricated, barely reclaimed modern ruins. There are a number of ugly modernistic buildings and a number of the areas look bleak and abandoned. This is all, of course, highly symbolic of the bleakness of the lives of the characters. Many films have discussions like this imposed on them (I think of some of the magnificent parodies in episodes of Monty Python), but LA DOLCE VITA almost demands metaphysical discussion. Fellini is concerned with the fate of human beings in the modern world, with what we have all lost and what we have failed to acquire in its place. Special mention has to be made of the extraordinary music for the film written by the incomparable Nino Rota, and easily stands as one of the very greatest film scores ever written, as integral to the success of the film as Bernard Hermann's scores for NORTH BY NORTHWEST or PSYCHO or Ennio Morricone's for A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. It is not epic or histrionic, but playful and light, almost ironic, as if to underscore the manner in which the characters whistle while Rome burns itself out. A spectacular film, one of my favorites ever. It is arguably Fellini's greatest film, and one of the great monuments of cinema."
Living the sour life
Edward | San Francisco | 08/09/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Most critics consider the soulful "La Strada" to be Federico Fellini's masterpiece, but for just plain entertainment nothing beats "La Dolce Vita". From the opening shot of the hovering Christ statue suspended from a helicopter blessing the City of God to the final close-up of the Umbrian angel gazing after the debauched hero (literally stranded very much like Zampano in "La Strada') "La Dolce Vita" has one scene after another to fascinate on the first viewing or to anticipate time and again. I'm sure everyone has his favorite sequence: the sex goddess wading in the Fontana di Trevi, the giggling children leading a gullible crowd to a "vision" of the Virgin Mary, or the beach house orgy which climaxes this study of jet-set corruption. Corruption is the key word here, and the movie was critized for saying "tsk tsk" to its characters while exploiting their depravity. The cast (or type-cast) is headed by Marcello Mastroianni as Marcello, a bachelor who is catnip to females. Anita Ekberg, a Swedish-born American movie star, plays ... a Swedish-born American movie star! On a sadder level, Lex Barker, a washed-up Tarzan, plays a washed-up Tarzan. The plot consists of Marcello's affairs with a succession of beauties, including Anouk Aimée as a jaded heiress who drifts in and out of Marcello's life, and Yvonne Furneaux as his mistress, pathetically attempting domesticity in an unfurnished apartment. Between beds, Marcello wanders around viewing Roman fever in various locales: a Renaissance castello, a tacky night club, and the Via Veneto, crowded with celebrities and sports cars. Rarely has decadence looked so attractive, photographed in black-and-white wide screen and hopped- up by Nino Rota's nervous music. (Incredibly, I can't find a video cassette in letter-box format.) Marcello is a journalist who specializes in tabloid scandal stories. His sidekick is a ruthlessly aggressive photographer named Paparazzo -- his plural is "paparazzi". An intellectual acquaintance named Steiner (hauntingly played by Alain Cuny) encourages Marcello to pursue more serious writing, but it is Steiner's incomprehensible act of destruction that finally sends Marcello over the edge, causing him to fall headlong into the sweet life which becomes increasingly "acida". Fellini shows the lassitude and futility of these beautiful but blank lives, the characters bored and, yes, basically boring. So why is the story so engrossing? I think it's because the director never repeats himself; every sequence is a variation on the same theme. Fellini, fascinated by the circus, knew how to hold an audience's attention; and in "La Dolce Vita" he has all three rings going at once: a tremendous life force, degeneration, and (in the closing shot of the innocent girl's face) hope. All you have to do is sit back with a glass of Chianti and enjoy the show."
Get this onto DVD!
jisyn | Evanston, IL USA | 10/15/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"My favorite Fellini film, combining the brilliant kaleidescopic parading of faces that characterize his later films with the humanistic neorealism of his earlier work. Told in a series of all-night parties that each end with the recognition of dawn, the movie tells the story of a tabloid writer who has risen to the top of his profession only to be dragged down because he can't find any sustaining meaning in the glitz and glamour.But the story line, although more important here than in later Fellini films, is really just a device to put actors on the screen, and nobody does this better. The cast is real reason to see this; Mastroianni in the role of his life, Anouk Aimee as a bored rich woman, and Anita Ekberg spilling out of her dress as an American actress are merely the most famous - every single performance, even by the most trivial of parts, is astounding and some of the best ever captured on film. My personal favorite is the clown trumpet player with the balloons at the Cha-Cha Club - in the middle of his performance he flashes one quick look at Mastroianni that speaks volumes.Unfortunately, the only version I have ever seen is in a standard screen ratio that is obviously badly panned - in a film this full of images there is almost more panning than actual camera movement going on, and still too much is happening off-screen. This movie needs badly to be letterboxed and given a new subtitle translation - but in the meantime, even if you have to settle for the poor VHS version, just enjoy what we have, from the awesome set pieces like the chasing of the Madonna and the final party, to the amazing Nino Rota score and the haunting organ melody of "Patricia"."
Caio, Marcello! Bravo, Fellini!
Rachel Newman | Tennessee, USA | 06/09/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"From the unforgettable image of its opening scene, (a giant statue of Jesus, arms outstretched in blessing, being flown by helicopter over the rooftops of Rome), to its sad, unforgiving conclusion, (on the beach in the harsh glare of morning), "La Dolce Vita" is a beautiful, disturbing and mesmerizing film which follows the movements of one tabloid writer (Marcello Mastroianni in the quintessential role of his career) as he first reports on and then becomes one of the dissipated pleasure-seekers among the wealthy elite of Rome. Fellini is at the height of his powers here, combining the earthiness of his earlier masterpiece, "La Strada" and the yet to come surrealism of "Juliet of the Spirits" and "Satyricon" to wonderful and totally satisfying effect. I have watched it many, many times and always find something new.....in the visuals, the dialogue, the hypnotic rhythm set to Nino Rota's perfectly jaded musical backgrounds. One striking image follows another......the midnight revelers with candles in the crumbling castle....Steiner's party with it's assortment of strange, self-obsessed souls....the bored socialite's joyless dance at the club where Marcello begins his long night......the voluptuous American movie star (Anita Ekberg)descending from her plane.......the wild dance led by the satyr-like "Frankie" with Ekberg on his shoulder......the "miracle children" leading the crowd on a merry chase in the rain.....and, of course, the desperate, depraved party that thrives in darkness and, even when the sun comes up, will never end. I know of no other film that more powerfully engages mind and senses than Fellini's eternal tale of the Eternal City, "La Dolce Vita." How sweet it is."