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  Dolce Vita, La Obsessions Then, Obsessions Now
Year: 1960
Director: Federico Fellini
Stars: Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimée, Yvonne Furneaux, Magali Noel, Alain Cuny, Annibale Ninchi, Walter Santesso, Valeria Ciangottini, Riccardo Garrone, Evelyn Stewart, Audrey McDonald, Polidor, Lex Barker, Laura Betti, Nadia Gray, Nico
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jesus Christ has arrived in Rome, descending from the skies from a helicopter as the children yell and beautiful women wave. Actually, it's a statue of Christ and another helicopter is following it to get photographs of such an image, and one of the journalists is Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni) who tries to signal to the women below to give him their telephone numbers, but with no luck. He knows he is a hanger-on, he knows the photographers he associates with are parasites who exploit any celebrity, and any sign of weakness in those celebrities, for all the publicity they can get, but he can kid himself he has serious ambitions, can't he?

The movie that gave the world the term paparazzi to describe the shutterbugs who flock around the rich and famous, and at times the not very rich but still famous, La Dolce Vita was an ironically named drama that took a long, hard look at the upper crust and, somewhat predictably, found them lacking. Director Federico Fellini was the man guiding us through the endless parties and endless hangovers that resulted, and while he had sympathy for the victims of this "sweet life" he was not about to let them off the hook for allowing it to get this bad. In a world where the pursuit of celebrity is a goal in itself, Fellini appeared to be predicting the future in his withering gaze.

Oddly, Fellini liked to project an avuncular persona for his own public appearances, and one who was reluctant to discuss the finer details of what he was really getting at in his work, as if to pin it down would be to self-sabotage it in some fashion, but here it’s extremely difficult to miss what the theme was, as you were reminded it with each successive scene of the beautiful people letting themselves down every evening. Anita Ekberg got all the attention at the time as the Swedish movie star making it big in Hollywood (do celebs still greet a new country by standing at the top of an aeroplane steps and blowing kisses to the photographers and fans? If not, why not?).

But Ekberg's Sylvia is indulged at every turn because she is so attractive, not even supposedly worldly-wise Marcello can say no to her, so when they hare off into the night in his sports car after yet another do, there's nothing he can do to stop her wading through the Trevi Fountain until, suddenly, it's daylight, the night has gone, and Sylvia heads off to bed with a slap from her alcoholic Tarzan star husband Lex Barker (who played Tarzan, and was abusive to women in real life). Ekberg was smarter than Sylvia, but even she would have recognised the walking cliché she was playing and how it was the epitome of the superficially lovely where nobody cares about the thoughts in their head as long as they can look at them and fantasise about them for a while, here in gossip and pin-up mags, but nowadays on the internet.

But Fellini goes further, as Anouk Aimée was the socialite Marcello should really be making progress with, but she is destroying her emotions inside, just as the pursuit of pleasure rings hollow for every single one of these people. Marcello's fiancee is Emma (Yvonne Furneaux), who we are introduced to as he races her to hospital after a suicide attempt in the first twenty minutes, a sign that all is not well; all she has to look forward to is Marcello's company, and he simply cannot make that commitment, culminating in the absurd scene where he dumps her by the side of the road after a furious argument, then returns later that morning when they make up again, having learned nothing and got nowhere. More parties follow, Marcello's father gets enthralled and disillusioned by his son's existence within hours, and a murder suicide of a man (Alain Cuny) our hero looked up to and hoped to emulate in his career makes him realise his aspirations to serious writing and philosophy are laughable. You won't be laughing after three hours of this, but it did present one of the most haunting endings ever as Marcello on the beach shatters his chance at redemption with a shrug. If it aimed to crush you, it might succeed if you're not careful. Music by Nino Rota (very recognisable in places).

[The Criterion Collection release this on Blu-ray with these special features:

New 4K digital restoration by The Film Foundation, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
New interview with filmmaker Lina Wertmüller, an assistant director on the film
New interview with scholar David Forgacs about the period in Italian history when the film was made
New interview with Italian journalist Antonello Sarno
Interview with director Federico Fellini from 1965
Audio interview with actor Marcello Mastroianni from the early 1960s
Felliniana, a presentation of La dolce vita ephemera from the collection of Don Young
New visual essay by filmmaker : : kogonada
PLUS: An essay by critic Gary Giddins,]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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