La Dolce Vita (“The Sweet Life”) is a study of crippling boredom, leading to artistic paralysis and loose sexual morals, played out against the decadence of post-war Roman cafe society.
Federico Fellini’s imagination runs riot with a series of striking, brilliantly photographed images as his central character, a journalist called Marcello Rubini (played by Marcello Mastroianni), lives out 24 hours in search of a story. He’s a hack working for whichever scandal sheet will pay his expenses.
Mastroianni is outstanding here as the journalist who, by day, jostles with the paparazzi in the hunt for movie stars, while by night, he indulges his passion for intellectual pretension and the indolent delights of the jet set. Marcello is not a lost soul. He is, however, caught between two loves – journalism and literature.
Marcello keeps his clingy, green-eyed girlfriend Emma (Yvonne Furneaux) on the back burner while dallying with various dishes of the day served up by the boho scene on the Via Veneto, Rome’s King’s Road.
Marcello and society girl Maddalena (Anouk Aimée) blatantly slum it by making love in a prostitute’s damp basement. She removes her shades to reveal a black eye, suggestive of further darkness on the edge of town.
Memorable scenes include a huge statue of Christ – arms outstretched – flown over Rome, Anita Ekberg drenched in the Trevi Fountain with a kitten on her head, and Nadia Gray hosting an orgy at which she performs a striptease.
Here is a contrived world of shoddy pleasures in a film that amazes and enthrals – an undoubted cinematic masterpiece.
It’s fitting that due to the film’s popularity, the photographer’s name (Paparazzo) should become accepted shorthand for the unscrupulous long-lens snapper’s trade.
Winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes, this sprawling, scathing satire on the decadence of contemporary Italy and the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church confirmed Fellini’s reputation for flamboyant, controversial imagery.
A dire warning that Italy was still politically and socially prone to the false promises of Fascism, this almost Dantesque odyssey so drained its Oscar-nominated director he did not make another feature for three years.