Sunday, September 05, 2010

La Dolce Vita (1960) ****1/2

Italian for “The Sweet Life,” this film is ironically titled. It is basically the story of a guy in a mid-life crisis. He has a cush, easy life, but he doesn’t consider it sweet. Marcello (played by Marcello Mastroianni) is a dapper, successful gossip magazine editor. He glides smoothly through the elite social circles of Rome, mixing with movie stars and artists and presiding over a gaggle of ruthless photographers. (One of the photographers is named Papparazzo, which is where we got the term “papparazzi.”) Despite the glamour of his life, Marcello feels trapped and dissatisfied. He has a loving live-in girlfriend, but she doesn’t challenge him enough, so he chases more dangerous women. He longs to be a serious writer, but he lacks the courage to give up what he has in order to pursue what he wants.

“La Dolce Vita” follows Marcello through a number of wild nights and bitter mornings as he struggles with these issues, floating from party to party, woman to woman. At one point Marcello’s father visits, and proves to be a charming, but aging bon-vivant. Marcello seems torn between admiring his dad and fearing becoming like him. A wise, older friend seems to offer an example for Marcello to follow, but he tragically disappoints him. Marcello meets a young girl who reminds him of his own youthful innocence and aspirations, but later he sees the same girl and fails to recognize her, symbolizing how much he has lost track of who he is.

Marcello’s existential struggle is one that we all face when we realize that we are still young enough to change the direction of our lives, but that our time is running out. Marcello has discovered that he isn’t going to find happiness in affairs and orgies, but he can’t seem to give them up. I find myself wishing that Fellini had imagined a redemption for Marcello so that he could have been a role model for us, not just a mirror. Ultimately, Marcello doesn’t find an answer, which is realistic, but unsatisfying.

This long, meandering film left me feeling a bit empty, but if it is hard on the heart, at least it is easy on the eyes. “La Dolce Vita” is filmed beautifully in black & white and is filled with beautiful women. Mastroianni is a tremendous actor, able to speak volumes with a single line or just a change of expression. This movie demonstrates why Fellini is one of the Masters.

4.5 stars.

For anyone who is interested, I highly recommend Roger Ebert’s review of “La Dolce Vita” at:

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