An Appreciation – La Dolce Vita
Marcello focuses much of his desires in to the different women of his life. The first is that of Emma (Yvonne Furneaux), his girlfriend. But, it is apparent almost immediately that she is not the source of his happiness. She is clingy, emotional, and self-destructive. In an early scene we find Emma attempting to commit suicide, afraid of losing Marcello’s attention. In fact, for the rest of the movie, Marcello treats her not so much as a lover, but someone who he watches over, afraid of what she might do if he leaves her. The next is that of Maddalena, played by the beautiful Anouk Aimee. Maddalena is a socialite, with whom Marcello shared an intimate night with in a prostitute’s basement. He meets her again at a social gathering, where a group of bored bourgeoisies decide to go on a ghost-hunting trip into an abandoned mansion. Marcello sneaks away and confesses his love to Maddalena through a wall, unaware that she has stopped listening to him to focus her attention on another man. And then, there is actress Sylvia, played by the voluptuous Anita Ekberg. Marcello falls for her at first sight, seeing her as everything that he loves (physically) in a person. She is not just a “woman,” she is “The Woman,” a representation of perfection in Marcello’s eyes. In the most famous scene of the movie, Marcello exclaims his love for Sylvia inside of an enormous fountain, but the language barrier and Sylvia’s aloof personality prevents the message from coming across.
Probably the most devastating moment for Marcello comes with his close mentor and friend, Steiner (Alain Cuny). Marcello sees Steiner as the person he wants to become: intellectual, thoughtful, together, and happy. Steiner encourages Marcello to finish his book, and invites him to a party where the people talk of poetry, life, and other interesting philosophical topics. They play music, drink fine wine, and smoke cigarettes, all while the lights of the city shine in to their room. This is the life Marcello dreams of, with Steiner the center of it all. These scenes set up the heartbreak later in the film, where we learn that Steiner was not who he appeared to be. He was disturbed mentally, and ended up killing his children and himself. This comes as a major blow to Marcello, his entire world rattled by this event. At the end of the film, at the party where sex and debauchery is the main attraction, Marcello has become completely lost, having fallen into the world he so wanted to escape from.
However, although the destiny of Marcello is laid out at the end of the film, it does not mean that the movie is depressing. It is emotional, yes, but there is life here bursting with excitement and intrigue. Fellini, with his cinematographer Otello Martelli, shoots the movie with beautiful black and white imagery. The scenes pop out of the screen with style and flair. Every moment of the movie can be captured and framed, especially all of the night scenes. The music by Nino Rota has a bounce and liveliness that is magnetic, representative to the time in which the film is set. All of the actors perform with a cool detachment, many times behind dark sunglasses and wearing the most fashionable clothing. The depiction of the press would become prophetic with their uncontrollable relentlessness, with the character of Paparazzo being the origin of the name we now know as “paparazzi.” And the Via Veneto, a street of nightclubs and restaurants in the heart of Rome, is shown with non-stop movement and thrill, where anyone can run in to anyone else, and where there always seems to be a new story developing.
La Dolce Vita is an incredible movie, one of my all time favorites. It is a story of love, desire, and the search behind the meaning of it all. The film features a character that has lost his moral direction in one of the most beautiful and sensual cities in the world. The title, translated in to English, means “The Sweet Life,” and it has a kind of ironic tone when seen within the context of the film. However, there is a moment at the very end that points toward the hope for happiness. Marcello, now lost in to his world of decadence, sees a young girl across the beach. He has seen her before while writing his book, but doesn’t recognize her. She tries to ask him if he remembers her, but he cannot hear over the sounds of the water. He then turns and leaves with his group. Yes, the movie ends with him a broken man, but I can’t help but think that there are still people in his life, smiling, waiting for him to return from the abyss.