In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “I agree that it is amazing and a true classic. I just have no idea why I think that or how to articulate it.”
“We must get beyond passions, like a great work of art. In such miraculous harmony. We should love each other outside of time… detached.”
Fellini is one for those film makers who even if you’ve never seen a single one of his movies, you’re familiar with his aesthetic. If you’ve ever seen a parody of black and white, European cinema, chances are it was parody of Frederico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman or the one of the French New Wavers. So even as I watched La Dolce Vita (translated as either “The Sweet Life” or “The Good Life”) for the first time, there was a kind of familiarity. The serious, tortured men in suits and sunglasses, the glamorous women they bed, the cafes, cars and narrow streets of an ancient city invaded by the modern day. It’s all here and it all looks amazing.
More a series of vignettes than a single story with a beginning, middle and end, La Dolce Vita follows tabloid reporter Marcello on a series of nocturnal adventures in and around Rome. Each story generally tells of a late night exploit in Marcello’s pursuit of love and some sort of meaning of life. Each story is then capped with a brief look at the consequences Marcello faces the following morning. Some are connected, share characters and even tell parts of a continuing story. Some don’t. Some I found really entertaining. Some I didn’t.
For me, the stories with the fewest characters and the strongest links to the other stories within La Dolce Vita worked best. One of the opening vignettes with Marcello, a woman named Maddalena and an encounter with a prostitute is a great start. Later, a story involving Marcello and his father is probably my favourite section of the film. And the three chapters featuring Marcelllo’s friend Steiner are the closest to traditional story line. Maybe it just shows how reliant I am on regular, traditional storytelling, but the Steiner sections definitely stood outas som of the strongest.
Other chapters sprawl through locations and pile on character after character, these were the ones I struggled with the most. A lot of the women in Fellini’s world look, dress and sound very similar. There were times when I thought it was a character from earlier, then a line of dialogue would make it obvious she was someone new. And, vice versa, half way through a scene with a new character, I’d realise she was the same bird as a couple of chapters ago and all of her preceding dialogue would suddenly make a whole lot more sense. I don’t blame Fellini for any of this, it all comes down to my rapidly diminishing attention span.
At almost three hours, and made up of so many seemingly disjointed elements, La Dolce Vita demands real attention and commitment. But with its vignette style, I couldn’t help thinking how easy it would have been to lose one or two, and keep the running time closer to two hours. I still have no idea what I was supposed to take from the chapter concerning sightings of the Virgin Mary. Again, I blame myself, not Fellini.
I’m not sure if I’m supposed to like the character of Marcello or maybe sympathise with him as a tragic, lost soul. For most of La Dolce Vita, I just found him an insufferable prick and wondered why so many people would want to be a part of his life. The chapter with his father is the only time I really found myself empathising with Marcello in any way. And just in case I had found any redeeming qualities to the character along the way, the closing chapter, where he tries to force everyone into an orgy and rides a drunk girl like a horse on her all fours, made sure that I out and out despised him by the time the end credits rolled.
Now that I’ve finally seen La Dolce Vita, I agree that it is amazing and a true classic. I just have no idea why I think that or how to articulate it.
(Review originally posted July 22, 2013)