La Dolce Vita: the lost Italy?

While Italy is coping with the worst economic crisis since its unification, the world depicted in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita seems almost fictional.

la dolce vita locandina

Film title: La Dolce Vita

Director: Federico Fellini

Starring: Marcello Mastroianni

Anita Ekberg

Anouk Aimèe

Music: Nino Rota

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Running time: 174 minutes

Release date:  February 5, 1960 (Italy), April 19, 1961 (US)

Price DVD English edition: €14,21

While Italy is coping with the worst economic crisis since its unification, the world depicted in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita seems almost fictional.

The movie is set in late 1950s Rome, where people were living the ‘economic miracle’ after the war. Among them, Marcello (Mastroianni), a gossip journalist, writes about the ‘bella vita’ (the sweet life) of the rich and famous in Rome, and works closely with a photo reporter, Paparazzo, whose surname was later adopted by the English language to describe all of those photographers who aggressively pursue celebrities to sell their pictures to newspapers and magazines.

Fellini used a new form of narrative for this black and white film, where the chronological sequence of events is abandoned in favour of seven non-linear episodes. For this reason, La Dolce Vita has often been described as a mosaic, whose parts are kept together only by one element, the protagonist.

In the prologue Marcello is on a helicopter, following a statue of Christ that is being taken to the Vatican by another helicopter; then he meets the heiress Maddalena (Anouk Aimée) and the American actress Sylvia (Anita Ekberg); in the third part Marcello spends some time with his intellectual friend, Steiner; he is called to cover a ‘fake miracle’ in the fourth part; later his father comes to visit him in Rome; and finally, in the last two episodes, Marcello attends two different, if not opposite, parties, with a serious tragedy separating the two sequences.

All of such disparate moments in Marcello’s life are accompanied by the music of Nino Rota, the brilliant Italian composer who wrote the soundtrack for The Godfather I and II. Popular tracks at the time like ‘Arrivederci Roma’ and ‘Patricia’ find their place in this still neorealist movie, and are arranged in a perfect way to provide the viewers with a full sound experience of 1950s Rome.

It is not a surprise that La Dolce Vita won the 1960 Cannes Film Festival, the Palme d’Or and the Oscar for Best Costumes. In 2010, Empire magazine included it in ‘The 100 Best Films of World Cinema’ list. Most, like critic Roger Ebert, consider it Fellini’s masterpiece, overriding even Amarcord.

La Dolce Vita contains many scenes that become incredibly popular outside the movie, such as the Trevi Fountain scene when Sylvia cries ‘Marcello, come here, hurry up!’, or the interview in the first part, during which she says ‘There are many things I like in my life. But there are three things that I like the most. Love, love, love’, recently used also for a tv commercial.

For those who have already seen this film, it may be a good idea to try to watch the original version (with subtitles, if necessary) to take pleasure in listening to the natural sounds of the Italian, French and American languages, which are as fundamental as Rota’s music to create the ‘ambience’ of La Dolce Vita.

For those who haven’t, mostly younger generations, watching it would compare to being taken to another dimension. Where Italy was reasonably rich and happy. Where the paparazzi drove around on their Vespas. Where life was truly sweet.


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