Dolce Vita, La (1960)


Like the film itself, the longer you look at it, the worse the poster gets...
Like the film itself, the longer you look at it, the worse the poster gets...

Genre: Drama (Italy)

Starring: Marcello Mastroianni (City of WomenLa notte), Anouk Aimée (Lola)

Directed By: Federico Fellini (Satyricon Amarcord)

Overview: Following the invasive days and womanizing nights of a famous Italian paparazzi journalist.

On the surface there’s a lot that a first timer watching La Dolce Vita can look forward to. The concept is rather interesting – the poster promises a buxom starlet frolicking in a fountain. We open with our journalist in a helicopter chasing another chopper that’s carrying a statue of Jesus. Another scene has crowds gathered in a media circus to witness children gazing upon the miraculous apparition of the Virgin Mother. All these things being documented by what should be a compelling character in Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni), who is obviously the one living La Dolce Vita - the sweet life. The 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book's first 4 words on La Dolce Vita read “An epic about triviality”. Though nothing so bland as art installation films like Wavelength, La Dolce Vita is nonetheless exactly the boring kind of slice-of-life film I mentioned not being a fan of in my last review. It’s a tedious 174 minute story that could have been told in half the time, mostly because half the scenes were vapid observances of minutia, and intentional as it was, I didn’t want to watch rich bored people at parties, or the journalistic parasites who followed them.
She provides fan service... get it.
She provides fan service... get it?

Federico Fellini shoots this with the usual fervor of his master craft. It’s beautiful to look at but too frequently shots linger sedentarily. As for the story itself, there’s really a lot that could have been left on the cutting room floor without any great impact. Watching a woman dote on her womanizing man by feeding him boiled eggs and bananas might be a telling morsel of their relationship dynamic, but it's grating to be subjected to such tiresome events. The first hour, spiked with hints of character development are nothing more than a man gallivanting around and ‘living the life’. After this tedious feature-length introduction to Marcello’s universe, some real story elements begin: his twisted love affair with his girlfriend, full of emotional valleys and plateaus, an estranged relationship with his father that he tries to rectify, tragic events with his friends, and through it all, chasing ‘the story’ in a rather too-relaxed fashion. Sadly, there was only one story that genuinely captivated me, and in the interest of showing the positive experience of a nigh-wasted evening, I’ll share it with you. Marcello follows a lead on a story where two children have been arrested because they claimed to have witnessed Madonna, the Holy Mother. When Marcello arrives to the town, a media circus is in full swing: lamps surround the tree the children saw the saint. Reporters are everywhere, the sick and the elderly are laid out like offerings searching for healing. The fiasco ramps up, lights shatter in the rain, and peasants tear apart the holy tree in hopes of gaining a shred of a relic. Telling, beautiful and on the pulse on all sides of the human spirit, this scene could have been the entire film and I’d have loved it, but sadly it’s a blip of colour in the otherwise flat sweet-life vignettes we experience. From here the last hour is full of pointed barbs and droning parties and repetitious proof that the rich and famous aren’t so great and dignified after all. Perhaps in 1960 this was surprising and relevant, but today it marked another film I was disappointed with.

Although La Dolce Vita isn't about the jackal media per se, a film that shares this type of story far more exquisitely is Ace In The Hole, otherwise known as The Big Carnival. Though we don't see endless droning moments of his everyday, we still learn everything there is to know about Billy Wilder's character Charles "Chuck" Tatum and his inflated brand of invasive journalism - of course I may be biassed, given that he's one of my favourite characters of all time. On the upside I've learned the origin of yet another word - Papparazzo, the name of our main character's loyal tagalong vulture photographer, has thanks to this film, ever since been used to describe "a freelance photographer who aggressively pursues celebrities for the purpose of taking candid photographs."
 friggin boring

Performance: 7 Cinematography: 8 Script: 6 Plot: 6 Mood: 5

Overall Rating: 64% (Not So Sweet As Sour)

I’m completely surprised: I don’t like Fellini’s stories. They bore me. They’re masterfully crafted, frequently gorgeous to look at and I’ve never seen a director so brilliantly stage scores of people in one scene, in one shot, the way I’ve seen Fellini do it. But seeing a perfectly placed crowd in front of me absolutely doesn’t mean I’m being entertained or that I like what they’re telling me. Fellini has 7 entries in the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book. This is two down, five to go, and I expect I’ll genuinely enjoy one or maybe two of them. Ever the student of the study, I’m glad to keep learning about Federico, hoping to be caught by surprise and fall in love with his other works.

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