Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimée, Anita Ekberg, and Nico in La dolce vita (1960)


(director/writer: Federico Fellini; screenwriters: Ennio Flaiano/Pier Paolo Pasolini/Tullio Pinelli /Brunello Rondi; cinematographer: Otello Martelli; editor: Leo Cattozzo; music: Nino Rota/Armando Trovaioli; cast: Marcello Mastroianni (Marcello Rubini), Anouk Aimee (Maddalena), Adriana Moneta (Prostitute), Yvonne Furneaux (Emma), Anita Ekberg (Sylvia), Lex Barker (Robert), Walter Santesso (Paparazzo), Annibale Ninchi (Marcello’s Father), Valeria Ciangottini (Paola), Alain Cuny (Steiner), Nadia Gray (Nadia), Magali Noel (Fanny), Jacques Sernas (Matinee Idol), Adriano Celentano (Rock & Roll Singer), Giovanna Busetti and Massimo Busetti (Lying Children of the Miracle) Runtime: 174; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Giuseppe Amato/Angelo Rizzoli; Koch Lorber Films; 1960-Italy-in Italian with English subtitles)

“It’s winsome because of the stylish cinematography, which fills the screen with mind-blowing bizarre visuals.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This was the breakthrough film of Federico Fellini (“8 1/2″/”Fellini’s Roma”/”Juliet of the Spirits”). It celebrates modern Rome as seen through the eyes of a celebrity journalist, Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni), a frustrated writer earning his keep by staying out every evening on the Via Veneto where he comes into contact with the rich and famous. We are supposedly witnessing the moral decline of Western civilization, and the worship of movie stars as religious icons. The reporter has a live-in girlfriend, who wants to get married, the possessive and depressive Emma (Yvonne Furneaux). He has many dalliances, one is with a bored nymphomaniac society gal (Anouk Aimee).

In this episodic tale Marcello moves around the city with the paparazzi, ready to catch the action, and he has the power to make and break the celebs he covers. Marcello, a celeb himself, attends nightclubs and parties that go on until dawn that are given by intellectuals, hedonists, the decadent rich and various other parties. One such memorable scene is over a false miracle (the media has a field day as a pair of children claim to have seen the Holy Virgin); the most moving scene is the suicide of an intellectual friend (Alain Cuny), that is done with compassion for the morally upright vic; and, finally, an orgy, that became the film’s reason for being.

There are a few noteworthy scenes that lift the film above the muck: the opening shot has a helicopter lifting a statue of Christ into the skies and leaving Rome. Symbolically it augments the departure of God for Fellini’s prophetic vision. Another memorable scene is over the Trevi Fountain (Mastroianni goes into the fountain where visiting Hollywood actress Anita Ekberg is bathing). The warmest scene had Marcello meeting with his father (Annibale Ninchi) and tempting him with the sweet life.

The film veers between high culture and trash, with a little of everything in between. Because the sex was frank, the Catholic Church condemned it as a dirty movie (which only increased its box office). The film is much more than that, it’s Fellini’s statement about him as an artist and how he wants to make movies as both real life and fanciful art. It’s winsome because of the stylish cinematography, which fills the screen with mind-blowing bizarre visuals. It’s a special film, but has become dated; it points its finger at decadence with a certain titillation but just as easily seems to be grounded with a sophisticated attitude in its need to search for a way to find the sublime. Like its playboy hero Marcello, it can’t make up its mind if it wants to grow up. You might say that our hero has become a victim of something that’s too good to leave, but ultimately may not really be that good for him.