La Dolce Vita

Federico Fellini, Italy / France, 1960, 167 minutes

From the opening sequence of Christ flying low over a grainy fifties Rome, this is a film about the search for the sublime, which always seems to hover just above all of us. It is fitting that Marcello (Mastroianni, Fellini’s erstwhile alter ego) should be hovering somewhere just behind it in his personal pursuit, crammed into a helicopter with a member of the paparazzi brandishing a telephoto lens. Despite his avowed intent to be a writer, he makes his living rehashing gossip of the rich and fabulous.

Not a film with what you could call strong narrative drive, La Dolce Vita oils its way as self-indulgently through Marcello’s world and his quest for something worthy of worship as he does. In a series of increasingly magnificent and silly episodes he attempts to find the ideal woman, the ideal man, the ideal job, the ideal life. Perhaps inevitably, he always discovers doubt at the heart of the object of his adorations. Poor Marcello and his decentred self wind up dancing to bongo music and throwing feathers about in a white suit at a beach hut.

Though at times deeply dated, this is existentialist angst as the fifties lived it. And, darling, it looks simply gorgeous. Marcello himself is a thing of eerie beauty, crisply suited and astride a throbbing moped, dashing from echoing mansions to achingly sharp apartments through pools of glare and shadow. Fellini, in his characteristically composed way, manages to capture the stress of trying to rebuild a country after the war in the bombed-out fading grandeur of Rome and its dissipated denizens.

True, the film ennervatingly posits meaning only to blow it away. But Marcello’s predicament is both of its time and strikingly close to home. What do you worship in a world where film stars are treated like religious idols?

Review by Rosie Anderson
Written for EUFS Programme Spring 2002