Wednesday Editor’s Pick: La Dolce Vita (1960)

by on June 14, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing daily though this Thurs Jun 16 at 1:00, 4:20, 7:40 [Program & Tix]


Its the 50th Anniversary of Marcello’s way ahead-of-its-time paparazzi ennui!


We’ve rounded up the New York press who have seen the stunning new 35mm restoration screening at Film Forum, brought to you in part by Gucci and the Film Foundation.


David Fear for Time Out New York:

Yes, Film Forum’s two-week revival of il maestro’s groundbreaking work should be considered mandatory attendance anyway, given that this new 35mm restoration is gorgeous; the movie’s aristocratic filth has never looked so pristine. But the real reason to wallow once more in its parade of faux Madonnas and real whores, rich junkies and jerkwads, parasitic paparazzi (a term the film coined), dim-bulb starlets, drunken louts and the lowest of the low—that’d be journalists—is to recognize, with stunning clarity, the morally bankrupt, media-fried here and now. Historians can laud it as the transitional pause before the director fully abandoned any neorealistic flourishes and dove into the psycho-personal surrealism known as the Fellini-esque. Yet everyone else will simply admire, in slack-jawed stupor, the way this 51-year-old time capsule thoroughly predicts the era of TMZ, Paris Hilton and celebutante overload. Everything has changed, and nothing has changed. How sour it still is.



A.O. Scott’s video review for the New York Times:



Alt Screen’s own editor Matt Connolly, for Slant:

Watching it for a second time, the film’s social censures felt much less important than its boundless zeal and curiosity. It’s a film that more or less earns its right to criticize because it has bothered to look deeply at the world it seeks to assess. This has much to do with the film’s structure. Fellini and co-screenwriters Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, and Brunello Rondi (as well as an uncredited Pier Paolo Pasolini) offer a series of vignettes that sketch Marcello’s world and offer insight into his emotional torpor. Each revolves around a public gathering of sorts, be it a low-key grouping of friends and notables at the home of intellectual and gentle family man Steiner (Alain Cuny) or a raucous jaunt through the ruins of an aristocrat’s aging castle. Their disconnected quality mirrors the weightless nature of Marcello’s existence, floating from one encounter to the next with little thought to what came before or after. The multitude of characters that Marcello encounters in these buzzing assemblages over the film’s almost-three-hour running time gives La Dolce Vita a novelistic density. Fellini offers his fair share of fools and sinners, but makes sure to toss in some sages and saints as well. Like Marcello, we become intoxicated by the possibilities each new set piece holds, even as we are made increasingly aware of the disillusionments that mark their conclusions.


Beauty and emptiness rub elbows constantly throughout. The film’s famous opening image finds a helicopter hoisting a statue of Jesus, hands benevolently outstretched, over the sun-bleached Roman outskirts. The sculpture’s flight has a surreal serenity, even as it establishes the dominant motif of once-meaningful ideas reduced to fleeting spectacle. Later, a purported sighting of the Madonna in an abandoned expanse outside of Rome prompts a horde of grasping bystanders and a phalanx of the film’s omnipresent news photographers to surge forth to grab branches of the tree where she materialized, turning spiritual pilgrimage into greed-fueled frenzy. Whole sections of La Dolce Vita take place among empty and forgotten spaces such as this. These floodlit, forlorn roads and soggy apartments stand in pointed contrast to the monochromatic elegance of Rome’s nightclubs and penthouses, suggesting both the characters’ insulated existence and the inevitability of its decay. That Fellini and Martelli find seductive plays of light and shadow within both sets of landscapes speaks to the artists’ view of Rome as a visual continuum rather than a binary. Like the people inhabiting them, the spaces have their own character and individuated qualities, and are considered as such.



Michael Joshua Rowin for L Mag:

Like many a classic, Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita has become nearly impossible to experience apart from its legend. It is no longer a film but a “moment,” one of the great works from the golden age of European art cinema, often reduced to an overly familiar snapshot of post-war excess and modish oblivion.


Yet La Dolce Vita lives forever. Fellini may have set out to explore the outer delirium and inner rot among a subsection of pampered starlets, amoral gossip-hounds, pretentious socialites and funereal aristocrats at the peak of Italy’s Economic Miracle and burgeoning gliteratti culture, but Vita is a universal fable, as universal as Dante’s Inferno.


By the time of Vita Fellini had left Neorealism far behind to create his own unique brand of mythic humanism, but was still a feature film away from the kinetic expressionism and disorienting subjectivity that would mark 8 1/2 as the opening of a radical new artistic phase. Vita is therefore a transitional film, an apt designation considering Mastroianni’s transitional character: a man too restless to renounce the cheap thrills of his empty occupation, and too childlike to give up the superficial comforts of a romantic relationship and ever-delayed creative aspirations.



Simon Abrams explores “What La Dolce Vita taught Sofia Coppola about Bored Young Bohemians,” for Capital:

I’ve singled out Somewhere and not Lost in Translation as an example of Coppola’s debt to La Dolce Vita because Dorff’s problems are closer to Marcello’s than Bill Murray’s are in Translation. Both Marcello and Dorff’s Johnny dream of breaking away from a cycle of debauchery whose consequences are still being actively decided. Johnny’s deceptively quiet life is periodically interrupted with lap dances from robotic blond twins and text messages from angry flings. At the same time, Cleo is a constant presence in Johnny’s life in Somewhere. She’s always on his mind after he watches and is stunned into silence by one of Cleo’s ice-skating routine. This sequence reminds him of everything he’s missed by not being around her more as often as he wants to be.


Along with George, both Marcello and Johnny still have the opportunity to make their frenzied lives more like the relatively stable domestic fantasies that are always in the back of their minds. They don’t need a second chance yet, just an excuse to leave. For Marcello, that excuse is Maddalena, a dream match that tells him she loves him while being fondled and kissed by another man. What distinguishes George and Johnny from Marcello however is that while he surrenders to the chaos that has come to define his life, both Johnny and George manage to escape into domestic bliss.


This is probably why La Dolce Vita’s finale is so much more satisfying than that of either Somewhere or 10. Marcello wanders off onto an unidentified beach and struggles to communicate with a little girl that waited on him earlier at a seaside restaurant. The deafening sound of the nearby waves makes it impossible for the two to communicate and after a while, Marcello accepts that fact with a bittersweet shrug of the shoulders. He can’t totally turn his back on the cacophonous life he’s led up until that point, because nobody is perfect and settling down isn’t an antidote to the satisfactions of bohemianism.



Michael Atkinson traces the film’s continuing potency and influence, back in 2004, for The Village Voice:

Fellini may be the most dated and retrospectively overinflated of the new wave era’s headline acts, but La Dolce Vita (1960) is still a potent, expressionistic launch into post-war Euro-emptiness that shares a rarely acknowledged helix with Antonioni’s L’Avventura, released later that year. Outlandishly fashionable in its day thanks to the very decadence it critiques, the movie is almost Chayefsky-esque in its desolate portrait of a self-disgusted “society” reporter (Marcello Mastroianni) as he wanders in and out of the Roman celebrity-royalty-publicity swampland. Hardly just bourgeois target practice, Fellini’s movie focuses on what had become of pop culture after fascism. The satirical attack lets Vita bloom into a living nightmare whose primary source of horror was the manner in which gossip, stardom, and entertainment media had laid siege to the world consciousness.


La Dolce Vita‘s welcome cynicism was powerfully influential, at least here—open season was declared on official cultural industries in so many films (The Manchurian Candidate, Medium Cool, The Long Goodbye, Network, etc.) that it became an American new wave motif.


And here’s Marty Scorsese, introducing the film.



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