Dir: Federico Fellini
No, I had not seen it before. And yes, I can now finally look myself in the mirror.
Inscrutable (in a good way) tale of the moral decline of the modern world. The crushing bleakness of the film's message is hidden beneath layers of revelry, as Italy's carefree jet-set busy themselves with endless parties, sex, drink and self indulgence. Predominant themes (and there may literally be hundreds of them in this film) include the artificiality of perception, the hypocricy of those who demand love but are themselves fundamentally selfish and the inevitability of loneliness in a culture typified but want for nothing.
Our protagonist, played by one of the most handsome man ever Marcello Mastroianni (if I do say so myself), finds himself in a variety of hedonistic vignettes with celebrities, royalty and intellectuals. I won't go into each one, and the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts anyway. Suffice it to say that Marcello comes to learn that pleasure has become an end to itself,something filthy and degrading that prevents any real connection between people. Photographers appear everywhere, chronicling the exploits of the well-to-do so that the rest of the world can live vicariously through them. But of course this is all a distrortion. The fun is carried on becuase no one knows how to do anything else, being separated from religion, family, meaningful labor and love. Only their plastic and artifical images proliferate the modern world.
The movie is quite simply gorgeous technically. Fellini is so good at filming large crowds and parties, somehow controlling the kineticism of these moments. Artifical light plays a large role on screen, with tall stadium lights backlighted themselves to draw our attention to them. Costumes are purposefully ostentatious, so manneristic as to be from another world, like the excesses of a Paris fashion show. Everyone looks truly beautiful all of the time. There is so much camera work going on here that the film would survive hundreds of screenings.
The movie, though, sufferes slightly in my mind both from its use of metaphor to distance itself from the viewer as well as the utter lack of redemption. I personally was moved more by Fellini's earlier "Nights of Cabiria", a film that explored similar subject matter but found some humanity and humor in the world as well. But that is a matter of personal taste, and no doubt there are times when having to put a film together is its own reward.
La Dolce Vita is like a really complex poem. No one gets everything at first exposure, but you follow along for the ride and enjoy the beauty of the imagery or a clever turn of phrase. With years of study and contemplation, this film no doubt opens up like Donne or Yeats. I'm not sure I am going to like what I find in there, but such a work of art compels this examination nonetheless.
The film is essential and frustrating.