La Dolce vita

   Film. Directed by Federico Fellini in 1959, released in 1960. The most renowned Italian art film of the 1960s, La dolce vita was Fellini's acerbic, if rather fascinated, take on the glamorous, media-soaked, but ultimately empty lifestyle that had developed around Rome's Via Veneto district in the wake of Hollywood's colonization of the Tiber during the 1950s. The title, meaning literally "the sweet life," was clearly inflected ironically, but many mistakenly interpreted the film as an endorsement and a celebration of that new celebrity worship and media consciousness that was becoming part of the new Italy of the so-called economic miracle.
   The plot is willfully disconnected and episodic. Tabloid journalist Marcello Rubini, inimitably played by Marcello Mastroianni, flits around Rome for most of the film, usually accompanied by his photographer, Paparazzo, returning frequently to the Via Veneto to catch up with the latest events. Nurturing aspirations to being a serious writer but with neither the discipline nor the inspiration to realize it, Marcello drifts between sexual dalliances and journalistic assignments that include, among other things, showing a visiting international starlet, played by Anita Ekberg, the sights of Rome (prompting the legendary scene in which they both splash about in the Fountain of Trevi), and reporting on the "miraculous" apparition of the Virgin Mary to two children in a field on the outskirts of the city. In the course of his meanderings he also visits an intellectual writer friend whose professed love of music and literature masks a more deep-seated existential malaise that abruptly emerges when he kills his two small children before shooting himself. Running as a thread through most of the episodes is Marcello's attempt to escape from what he obviously feels is a cloying relationship with his official fiancee, Emma. In the final episode, in what was judged to be one of the most scandalous and immoral scenes of the whole film, Marcello attends a wild party thrown by a recent divorcee, during which the hostess performs a self-conscious striptease and Marcello rides one of the female partygoers like a horse.
   Stylistically the film was something of a turning point for Fellini, who here abandoned forever any vestiges of his involvement with neorealism, which still persisted in his previous Le notti di Cabiria (The Nights of Cabiria, 1957), embracing an unashamedly modernist idiom that would soon metamorphose into the postmodern self-referentiality of Otto e mezzo (8'A, 1963). At the same time, in spite of being shot mostly in a studio—the Via Veneto itself was meticulously reconstructed in the Cinecitta studios by Piero Gherardi—the film managed to convey the pulse of a changing, and changed, Italy rapidly careening into its own chaotic future. At its first gala screening in Milan in February 1960, the film caused a major furor, with many of the invited guests booing and hissing, and Fellini himself being spat upon. In the days that followed the film was vehemently attacked by the Catholic and conservative press, and a number of right-wing politicians even presented a proposal to ban it in Parliament. However, good sense eventually prevailed and the film, having already received its certificate of release from the censorship board, was allowed to circulate freely. Due, at least in part, to all the publicity generated by the heated controversy, La dolce vita achieved unprecedented box office success, both in Italy and abroad, and was enthusiastically awarded the Palme d'or when presented at Cannes. In the United States it subsequently received the New York Film Critics Prize for Best Foreign Film and four Oscar nominations, winning the Academy Award for Best Costume Design. As part of the film's enduring legacy, the name of the photographer, Paparazzo, came to be widely used internationally from then on to designate any member of that race of invasive and aggressive celebrity photographers that has unfortunately continued to flourish to the present day.
   Historical Dictionary of Italian Cinema by Alberto Mira

Guide to cinema. . 2011.

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