The Italian film of March was a toss up between The Bicycle Thief (1948), Cinema Paradiso (1988) and La Dolce Vita. A lot of superficial decision-making took place with this one, spouting thoughts like “Oh, I can’t be bothered with an old black and white film again that I will have to really concentrate to understand..” or “La Dolce Vita‘s running time is HOW LONG?!” But then I realised La Dolce Vita is a Fellini classic, and upon further research I don’t ever recall watching a Fellini. And I call myself a cinephile?? FOR SHAAAAME!
So here I am, 171-ish minutes later. Federico Fellini is a reknowned Italian film director. I have heard the name countless times without having seen any of his work. La Dolce Vita or “The Good Life” or “The Sweet Life” won the Palme D’or at Cannes the year it was released. The film primarily follows Marcello Rubini, a journalist, over seven days and nights. Many film academics have split the narrative into a prologue, an epilogue and 7 episodes. And I’m certainly a cheerleader for this kind of strategic organisation.
He dances with the devil on several occasions. Schmoozing at parties until the wee hours, having explicit relations with women who are most definitely not his fiancée and he definitely has one. And he doesn’t concern himself with caring about her feelings. Marcello is more bothered about his own happiness. For a split second, a quarter of the way through the film, I found it extremely odd that this kind of narrative was being handled so nonchalantly… But then I realised this was an Italian film.
You’d be forgiven for not immediately noticing that the film wasn’t American, however. Apart from the blatant use of the Italian language. And, the fact that a helicopter flies in carrying a Statue of Jesus over St Paul’s in Vatican City in the prologue. The film has classic Hollywood visuals and vibe for a large portion of the film. The introduction of Sylvia, a Swedish-American actress, is what I imagine a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Jessica Rabbit would look like. Her entrance from the plane as she is surrounded by Paparazzi has been seen countless times before in American movies and Marcello is a real cool, calm, Cary Grant type character.
But there are certain… differences. Differences that make this film European, and more specifically Italian. For example, when Sylvia is exiting her plane, a trio of gentleman admirers shout to each other “Do we give her the flowers first, or the pizza?” “The Pizza!” one harks back. A use of comedic Italian iconography that immediately took me back to the line in The Godfather (1972). Where Clemenza exclaims calmly, “Leave the gun, take the Cannoli.”
There are too many references to the Catholic church for this to be anywhere but Italy. A country whose entire cultural landscape is built on having a population of romantic lovers, but somehow also highly religious and traditional.
Like the juxtaposition of Italy’s dual reputations, Marcello is fighting a similar battle within himself. He wants to live a carefree and excessive lifestyle filled with many women and parties, but always goes back to his fiancée. He’s clearly not coming to any decisions over which one is “The Good Life” and in turn ends up not having a very good life at all. By the end of the film, Marcello is completely unaware of his own self-destruction and he’s destined to continue in the cycle.
I enjoyed the film much more than I thought I would. All 3 hours of it. Despite my comparing to American visuals, it’s a blatant European metaphorical post-war narrative. And the film pushes more boundaries and goes much further than an American film of the same time would. The film was utterly gripping, unpredictable and I’m glad I gave La Dolce Vita the time it deserved.