In 1984 East Berlin, an agent of the secret police, conducting surveillance on a writer and his lover, finds himself becoming increasingly absorbed by their lives.
OSCAR WINNER for Best Costume Design, Black-and-WhitePiero Gherardi
OSCAR NOMINEE for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Director, Best Screenplay
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La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life) from 1960 is Fellini's introduction to the coming era of turmoil, modernity, and sexuality. Fellini comes out of the 1950s by making a film different from anything he had made thus far-- wild, confusing and complex in exploring the everyday life of the famous, rich and disillusioned population of Rome.
La Dolce Vita follows Marcello, a womanizing journalist (played by Marcello Mastroianni) who follows celebrities and socialites, looking for stories to write about, women to seduce and parties to join. There is no real plotline to this film, it's simply an exploration of human existence in the metropolis of Rome, but focusing on the upper class and the famous rather than the lower or working class we saw in Le Notti di Cabiria, for example. It can be a confusing whirlwind for a first time viewer; none of the scenes really connect, each is like a new episode as we follow Marcello from one party or nightclub to another, from the Trevi fountain in the center of Rome to a castle on the outskirts. Multiple viewings may be required to capture the content of the film, and appreciate the cinematography, art direction, costume (for which it won an Oscar) and writing.
The film begins with the famous shot of a helicopter carrying a statue of Jesus over the city of Rome. It flies over the outskirts, the ruins, and then over a rooftop of sunbathing women, when Marcello is revealed inside the helicopter, trying to make conversation with the women below. Why this is happening or where it's going is not really explained; it is an absurd yet visually intriguing introduction. Among the many characters Marcello comes across, some that stand out are Sylvia (Anita Ekberg), the Swedish English-speaking actress, a beautiful but lost soul who picks up stray kittens and wades in a fountain in the middle of the night. There's also Maddalena ( the French actress Anouk Aimee), a lovely and bored socialite, and Emma, Marcello's suicidal fiancee with whom he has a fiery relationship, since he is never faithful to her. Marcello's friend Steiner is a more pensive character who gives us some intellectual thoughts on life, but is himself quite unstable. This vast array of characters, along with some outrageous background characters, give a colorful view of the city and night life Marcello encounters every day. Also accompanying him is a cameraman named Paparazzo, and it was from this character that the term paparazzi was born.
For a display of cinematography (once again by Otello Martelli) and art direction, there are certain scenes that stand out. Fellini gives us yet another spectacle of religion when Marcello and Emma go to see a “miracle tree” where two young children claim to have seen the Madonna. Crowds of people come, as well as the paparazzi and TV crews, and the scene becomes increasingly chaotic when the two famous children show up and it begins to rain. The camera weaves in and out of the crowd, following the children running through the rain insisting that they are following the Madonna. Another scene of a very different crowd that is dreamlike and odd is a party at a castle that Marcello tags along to, filled with the upper class and models in ridiculous and fabulous gowns who explore a neglected guest house by candlelight.
Although there is no real plot, and one can find many subjects running throughout the film, one theme that is explored and discussed often, although never with a solid resolution is love and women. Marcello can't seem to be monogamous; he is enchanted with nearly every woman he meets. There are discussions about the nature of love, as if it's something to study and analyze, and men and women advise Marcello to have as many partners as he can, and never choose between them, but this way of life really doesn't seem to make him happy. The problem of love and women will from this point on come up frequently in Fellini's work, especially in 81/2.
With La Dolce Vita, Fellini made his mark as an auteur- a term that had just been coined by the writers of the Cahiers du Cinema and referred to the filmmakers of the New Wave such as Truffaut and Godard, but it can be applied to a director like Fellini as well. An auteur should display a technical mastery of cinema, as well as a personal style, and La Dolce Vita reveals Fellini as having both. Consequently, he brought about a new form of cinema-- along with the French directors and other Europeans such as Bergman and Antonioni-- that American directors would be inspired by and emulate during the 1960s and 1970s. The American filmmaking of the 60s that so changed cinema can be partly attributed to these European auteurs, and La Dolce Vita illustrates the vitality and sexuality, as well as disillusionment, of people at the beginning of a new era.