Friday, September 28, 2007

La Dolce Vita

With a trip to Italy approaching fast, I decided to check out some Italian cinema. It is something I desperately need to see more of, since Cinema Paradiso and Suspiria have been the extent of my limited Italian cinema experiences.

Having seen Cinema Paradiso back when I was in high school and loving it, I tried to rent it, but to no avail. So after a friend from work recommended Frederico Fellini's La Dolce Vida, I decided to check it out from the local library since, let's face it, there's no chance it'll be at the local Blockbuster store.

And at the risk of sounding like a brainless movie-goer, I found La Dolce Vita to be extremely boring.

The movie is divided up into 3 or 4 segments, mostly independent from the other, each involving the main character, Marcello, and his quest for "the sweet life", or the "la dolce vita" of the title.

Marcello is a journalist in Rome, circa 1960, where the jet-set crowd has created the need for 24-hour coverage by the exploitive media, thus creating the paparazzi. Interestingly enough, the film actually invented the term "paparazzi", as one of the characters in the film is a cockroachy photojournalist named Paparazzo who is everywhere, flashing his camera into the face of his target.

The problem is, Marcello doesn't know what he wants. He has a girlfriend who is suicidal, thanks in part to Marcello's endless mind games, he has another girlfriend who he likes to hook up with in the bedroom of strangers he meets in the city, and he lusts after an American actress who comes to Rome to shoot a movie.

Marcello also enjoys time with his elitist friends who like to spout poetry, making themselves feel "creative" all while getting hammered or stoned. His good friend, Steiner, seems to have found the sweet life, as he is married with children and gives Marcello good advice on how he too can find la dolce vita. But Marcello's idea of the sweet life is turned on its ear when Steiner kills his children and then himself.

The plot, on paper, sounds interesting, and if it had been handled in a chronological way, it might have been. But Fellini divides the segments of the film into almost independent parts, which feel like unrelated chapters in a book.

Just as Anita Ekberg's American actress Sylvia heats up the screen and starts to create some chemistry with Marcello by dancing in the Trevi fountain, her character is gone for good. Then we're given a disjointed scene where Marcello covers a "miracle" as two children have just seen the Madonna standing beneath a tree in a desolate field outside Rome. Then we meet Marcello's father who on the surface is a happy person but ultimately turns into a sad and distant man. Then there are endless parties. And by the time the final scene on the beach occurs, and Marcello surrenders to the life he leads, we realize that we have come to the end of a fruitless journey ourselves, and have thereby wasted 3 hours of our life.

Fellini may be a genius, but I wouldn't know, since this is the first of his films I've seen. And if his work isn't for every one, I can understand.

Cut down to 2 hours or maybe even a little less, La Dolce Vita would have felt like a more manageable movie. And while the film is dated, it does speak to the modern times of the paparazzi in America and around the rest of the world. But with that said, La Dolce Vita is a meandering film of separate parts that never adds up to anything urgent or timeless. I know I will get blasted for saying this, but it's the way I feel.

Believe me, I wish I could have enjoyed this film. It's a critically acclaimed film (Entertainment Weekly's #6 best film of all time) and I can't help but feel like I am missing something I should have picked up on. But I understood the basic themes and got most of the imagery. I guess the sweet life is just too sour for my tastes.

FILM SCORE: ** (out of ****)
BEST SCENE: Anita Ekberg in the Trevi Fountain
FILM STATUS: Overrated Italian "masterpiece."

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