I have not seen as many of Federico Fellini’s films as I would like. I have yet to see I Vitelloni, La Strada, Nights of Cabiria, Fellini’s Roma, Satyricon, or Amarcord. I did see, in college, probably his two most well-known works, 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita. 8 1/2 is one of my favorite films of all time, but La Dolce Vita remained more elusive. Just a few days I rented the DVD and found a new appreciation for it.
The film follows the activities of a gossip writer, Marcello (played by Marcello Mastroianni) in the swinging jet-set of Rome in 1959. The film is episodic, covering roughly eight segments, each of which begins during the night, with the promise of romance and adventure, and ends in the gray light of dawn, either in despair, disappointment or tragedy. Marcello would like to be more than just a scribbler, he has hopes of being a real writer, and idolizes an intellectual friend, Steiner. He has a girlfriend who is devoted to him, but he can not love with equal intensity. He lacks the personal courage and strength to better himself, and even when he is offered redemption he shrugs it away.
The film has offered a couple of iconic images and phrases: Anita Ekberg, as an American actress (perhaps modeled on Jayne Mansfield?) cavorting in Trevi Fountain, and the word paparazzo comes directly from this film, as it is the name of Marcello’s colleague, who is a celebrity photographer (I believe the word means “buzzing insect” in Italian).
At times La Dolce Vita is not easy to watch, as it is a film about indolence and self-loathing, but it is frequently breath-taking, particularly the black and white photography.