Tuesday, April 9, 2013


(April 1961, U.S.)

It wasn't until just about the time I turned thirty years-old in the late 1990s that I began discover subtitled art films, particularly the classic black and white genre of Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa and, of course, the great Federico Fellini. By this time in my life, I'd tried real damn hard to watch his landmark film 8 1/2 and it would take a few more viewing before I realized what a masterpiece of world cinema it was (and still is!). My interest in his other landmark film, LA DOLCE VITA ("The Sweet Life"), came from two sources. First, my uncle and one of my first cousins would not stop raving that I was a film I absolutely had to see. Second, my employer at the time whom I will call Steve (because that's really his name) told me of the rather infamous opening scene where a helicopter transports a statue of Christ over an ancient Roman aqueduct outside Rome while a second, journalist Marcello's (played by Marcello Mastroianni) tabloid news helicopter, follows it into the city. The news helicopter is momentarily sidetracked by a group of bikini-clad women sunbathing on the rooftop of a high-rise apartment building. Hovering above, Marcello uses rude gestures to elicit phone numbers from them but fails in his attempt. Steve described what was supposed to be a comic genius in this. To this day, I'm not sure I've ever agreed with him, but it was enough to allow me the nearly three hours required to watch the film. I didn't rent the double cassette tapes, though. Rather, back then, this film was broadcasted on the Bravo cable network, before NBC aquired it and turned into nothing but shit reality show (but that's another gripe for another time!)! That's when I finally discovered LA DOLCE VITA and I haven't turned away since.

Essentially, the film tells the story of Marcello's passive week in postwar Rome, and his search for both happiness and love that will ultimately never come to him. Along the way, there endless celebrities of music and film, plently of women and elements of sin that very likely caused quite a bit of controversy for its day. And of course, there's the matter of his aggressive, jealous, rather insane wife who just won't give the man a moment's peace. The key word, however, to really describe Marcello is "passive" because as we watch him go about the routines of his daily and nightly business, we are given the feeling (and perhaps even the deliberate illusion by Fellini himself) of a dream in progress. The people around him, the games they play and the endless dialogue that continuously erodes from their mouths are meaningless chatter for him. There is talk, talk, talk amongst the population of Rome and the party spirit they inhabit, but very little is truly said. Even the parasitic paparazzo (this is the Italian word that brought "Paparazzi" into the common language, by the way) are not professional men who can relate to Marcello's rather calm, subdued approach to life. Indeed, Marcello is a working man like all others, but we don't sense true happiness in his profession. He walks among the people, even "floats" around with them as they move from one naughty incident to another (including a drunken beach house orgy!), but always appears disconnected and disenchanted with them. Perhaps it's like the old song goes, "Looking for love in all the wrong places." The only real instance in which we truly get a sense of who Marcello is is during the chance meeting with his father (who clearly has no idea of the sort of people his son hangs out with) and the time they spend together at a local nightclub. There's an obvious sense of tenderness and love that he feels for his father, and in a way, from the viewer's perspective, perhaps it's just enough to redeem the man's soul in the wicked world of Rome's social decay that he's willingly succumb to.

Now I previously mentioned endless celebrities parading throughout Rome, but anyone who's seen this film knows the real star of this vehicle is not even an Italian actress; yes, it's American-Swedish actress Anita Ekberg who steals the show! Why does she steal the show? Shit, just look at this picture and you'll know why...

To watch this woman long enough in the film is an exercise in indecisive behavior in terms of what turns you on the most. Is it the long, luscious blonde hair? Is her sexy dancing at the Baths of Caracalla? Is it her wet skin as she wades into the Trevi Fountain? Oh, come on, let's be real honest here...it's definitely those perfectly large round breasts men like me can't take their eyes off of!

Strangely, I can't help but consider that despite the fact that it was the description of the opening scene (thanks, Steve!) that first peaked my interest in LA DOLCE VITA, it's the final sequence that stays with me the most. An adolescent waitress from the local seaside restaurant in Fregene, calls to Marcello from across an estuary but the words they exchange are lost on the wind at the beach and drowned out by the crash of the waves. He signals his inability to understand what she is saying or interpret her gestures. Rather than pursue it any further, he shrugs and returns to his latest group of partygoers. One of the women joins him and they hold hands as they walk away from the beach. In a long final close-up, the waitress waves to Marcello then stands watching him with an enigmatic smile. I don't know what gets me more; the true poignancy of the entire sequence or the dream-like feeling of the isolated beach the sounds of mother nature preventing any real contact between two human beings. Perhaps in the expressionistic and neo-realistic black and white world of Federico Fellini, we're never meant to know for sure. If that's the case, I'll take it because it works for me.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Sylvia: "Marcello! Come here! Hurry up!"

Not much of a line, but when you're watching her in the fountain when she says it, it's a wonderful invitation for a very wet sexual encounter!

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