Federico Fellini's epic study of the loss of values at the climax of the Italian "economic miracle," La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life), delineates the daily activities of a writer, turned reporter for a sensationalist journal, who is too deeply compromised by the degeneracy around him to see it, never mind report on it. The opening and closing scenes of the film are cleverly matched allusions to Dante which underscore the moral loss and its consequences for Italy, at the very moment when the revival of Fascism was beginning to make a difference in the balance of political powers.
Marcello follows a helicopter delivering a monumental statue of Christ, on a tow line, to the Vatican. From his own helicopter, he flirts with women sunbathing on a roof. The noise of the machine drowns out his voice as he tries to shout for their telephone numbers. In a parallel scene of shot-countershot the film ends with Marcello accosted by a charming and innocent girl who had once waited on his table. A stretch of water separates them and the noise of the sea makes her words inaudible to him. An Italian audience might recognize the allusion to the Medusa of the Inferno in the grotesquely reified image of Christ soaring through the Roman sky; even more evident would be the figure of Matilda at the top of Purgatorio who represents the summit of earthly beauty, irradiated by divine grace. Marcello has lost the ability to react to the grossness of the former and the saving promise of the latter. The world he inhabits is as lost as he is: Marcello moves from prostitutes to aristocratic women while, at the same time, deceiving his girlfriend; his intellectual friend, Steiner, who had urged him to find more fulfilling work, kills himself and his children; he covers for his newspaper the scene of a false miracle where someone is trampled by the enthusiastic crowd; he follows an American movie star as she utters banalities and poses for the press. In the center of the film Marcello accompanies his father on his first night in Rome since he was one of Mussolini's blackshirts (this is subtly suggested by the old man's references, never bluntly stated). The father's physical collapse and profound embarrassment when he fails to perform with a prostitute predicts the hero's eventual confrontation with the limitation of his values, just as its suggests that the playboy figure of 1959, brilliantly represented by Marcello Mastroianni, is a modern version of the Fascist ideal.
The moral atmosphere of La dolce vita reflects that in all of Fellini's films, but the grandeur of its scale, the refusal to resort to a pitiful or lovable protagonist, and the accuracy of its caricatures make it one of his most enduring achievements. Its initial success was, however, due in great part to the supposedly daring and sensational manner with which it dealt with sexual themes. Actually, it was one of three films to emerge from Italy at the end of the 1950s which heralded a powerful renewal of that national cinema. The others were Michelangelo Antonioni's L'avventura and Luchino Visconti's Rocco e i suoi fratelli, both released in 1960.
Release Date: 1960
Rating: Not Rated
Starring: Marcello Mastroianni, Walter Santesso, Anouk Aimée, Adriana Moneta, Yvonne Furneaux, Anita Ekberg, Lex Barker, Alan Dijon, Alain Cuny, Valeria Ciangottini, Annibale Ninchi, and Magali
Director: Federico Fellini
Writers: Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Brunello Rondi, and Ennio Flaiano, from an original story by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, and Ennio Flaiano
Source Citation: Sitney, P. Adams. "La Dolce Vita." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. Ed. Sara Pendergast and Tom Pendergast. 4th ed. Vol. 1: Films. Detroit: St. James Press, 2000. 340-342.