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  • Ravi Swami

"La Dolce Vita"- Dir: Fedrico Fellini - 1960

Updated: Jul 31, 2020

Critics and reviewers pre-process and package films so unless you’re curious or alternatively, have no intention of seeing a film because you feel it’s not “your thing”, then you may be satisfied with such reviews and be left with an impression that such and such a film can be summed up by certain “iconic” scenes or snatches of often repeated “memorable” dialogue that instantly defines the film in the minds of fans or the general viewer alike.

These moments then become pivotal rather than being merely incidental or even inconsequential in the context of the bigger picture, but that’s irrelevant when fans settle on them, even if that was never the filmmaker or scriptwriters’ intention, and it's an aspect that plays a large part in the marketing of films, especially in the highlighting of certain elements in film posters and publicity.

And who am I to argue with that ?

What I can say is that watching these films has been a journey of discovery with surprises along the way, and films that I might have avoided earlier on for various reasons are like a first time discovery.

Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" (Trans' : "The Sweet Life") suffers from this in focussing on one scene, and I have to say I was never a huge fan of his work possibly because this one scene depicted in the poster above gives the viewer no idea of the subject and effectively trivialises the film into being a snapshot of 60's Italian hedonism, a feeling that was shaped by watching his films on TV, probably in monochrome, in the mid to late 70's - they just seemed weird and often featured a parade of oddball characters in dreamlike situations, or focussed on a milieu that was unfamiliar or of no interest to me.

What I discovered is that age, and more importantly, the perspective that comes with age, plays a large part in the appreciation of his films.

"La Dolce Vita" is a film that is more accessible than "8 1/2", at least I found it to be - a picture of Rome in the 60's as history, minimalist concrete brutalism, building sites and, apart from Anita Ekberg's, women with unshaven armpits - it's a picture of a city rebuilding itself after the war and shaping how it would be seen by the rest of the world, but the contrast between grinding poverty and the middle-class hedonism of the newly wealthy are very apparent and Fellini doesn't shy away from showing this.

Marcello Mastroianni, who plays the central character, a working-class chancer - and who doesn't have a "good side" in terms of his looks, he's good from every side - depicts the arc of a man who becomes progressively more amoral as he is seduced by the attractions of wealth.

It's a film you have to give a chance and look beyond the "iconic" scene of Ekberg languishing in the Trevi Fountain for the unfolding story of a man with a shaky moral compass at the outset climbing a one-way greasy pole of success, both as an exploiter and as exploited, the gulf between his past life of innocence and present life of dissolution, beautifully summed up in the concluding scenes in the film with a neat visual metaphor.

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