Monday, August 1, 2011

La Dolce Vita (1960)

Directed by Federico Fellini
Written by Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano & Tullio Pinelli

It is difficult for me to decide where to begin with this one. I have only experienced Fellini one other time in my life, and it happened to be his cherished masterpiece 8 1/2, which was actually released 3 years after this film, which is also held in fairly high regards. So, no, my Fellini expertise is not very good, but I know I instantly fell in love with 8 1/2 and it is one of my more favorite selections from my private collection now, so I had an idea that I may like this one as well, especially seeing Marcello Mastroianni in the lead role once again. But really, other than the information I just provided, I didn't know what this film was about going in, which can sometimes afford the best experiences.

Mastroianni plays Marcello, oddly enough, but Marcello Rubini, who is a journalist and socialite in Rome. He goes out and spends time with the rich and famous, trying to get the latest scoop, but unlike the unbearable paparazzi, which includes Marcello's aptly named friend Paparazzo, Marcello sympathizes with the stars and takes the time to befriend and often comfort them, which, yes, sometimes includes going to bed with them. Throughout the film we follow Marcello and his encounters with these people which include American actress Sylvia (Anita Ekberg), his father (Annibale Ninchi) and Steiner (Alain Cuny).

I sat down to watch this film last night, knowing it was my last chance to catch it before it expired on Netflix Instant, which was probably a good thing, because it meant that I had to sit through the entire 3 hour runtime without the luxury of quitting, which sounds terrible, but let me tell you, it can be an important aspect to the viewing experience of a film like this. And when I say a film like this I mean that it is extremely episodic. And because of this, I found it difficult to follow, as there was no real flowing narrative or continuous story. Instead, Fellini was just treating us to "la dolce vita", the sweet life. I struggled with comprehending this film at first.

I liked the episodes individually as they were often quite interesting and entertaining, seeing how Marcello interacted with all these wonderful people, but at the same time none of them were all that wonderful. They were rich and famous, but other than Steiner and Marcello's father, I never felt like I got to know who they were, why they should be interesting and why Marcello, whose character is handled quite well, why Marcello is hanging around these people. So I did something that I almost always try to avoid, I looked up some response to the film by others. All I did was look at the critical reception part of the wikipedia page. Like I said, I usually try to avoid such things before writing about my own opinion of the film, but I am glad I did do it because I think I was able to understand the film much better, while still being able to maintain what my viewpoint was anyway.

Apparently one of the reasons this film was so influential was its episodic structure, which consisted of seven separate episodes. That was all the information I needed. Sure, I didn't like the fact that the film felt broken because of the episodes, and sure I thought the characters, apart from the few I already mentioned, were somewhat inaccessible, but this little bit of information allowed me to appreciate a film that failed to win me over and which will probably struggle to stick with me very long. It is almost like a slice of life film, which is a great idea. What I didn't like about the idea was the pizzazz of the setting, following movie stars and high society and how broken and loveless Marcello seemed to be.

Now having seen two Fellini films, I can say that I am a fan of his style because he clearly thinks outside the box. The two films I have seen are both beautiful from a visual perspective. The cinematography here is stellar and it really all starts with the wonderful lighting. But the costume design is awesome too. Sure, Marcello doesn't look as slick as he did in 8 1/2, but he still looks slick, and sure, the women may not look as beautiful (Claudia Cardinale isn't in this film) but they are still beautiful. There is plenty here to make La Dolce Vita a great movie, but it just never really clicked for me, even when I enjoyed so many certain moments and scenes in the film. Definitely looking forward to delving into more Fellini.

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