Wednesday, October 13, 2010


La Dolce Vita marked the midpoint at which Federico Fellini transitioned from neo-realism to more oneiric, almost surrealistic work. The film is populated by strange characters living even stranger situations and was condemned by the Vatican for its immorality.
But what has always remained in my mind about this movie was that it showed me what the power of moving images was all about.
Let me explain; as a child I became enthralled by Fellini in a way I couldn't completely understand. Given that finding his movies wasn't entirely easy for me, I devoured his work in any way I could.
One of these ways was by reading books about him. It was on one of his biographies where I first encountered La Dolce Vita.
In a nutshell the book told the entire movie. When I finally got the chance to watch it I was expecting the structure I had read about to play out in an automatic way.
I was shocked to see that the more I had read about the movie, the less I knew what I was getting into.

Anita Ekberg's Sylvia is "dangerous stuff but very beautiful".

Marcello (Mastroianni) stares in disbelief at this exotic she-wolf.

Very few movies are as flawless as La Dolce Vita, in how every single element is necessary. Which is why you really won't know what makes it so special until you watch it. Despite all the homages, parodies and countless references to it, the film remains an exciting, refreshing experience each and every time.
Which is why when choosing my favorite shot-and trying to be all cool and obscure-I was slightly pissed at myself for succumbing to one of the most famous sequences in film history...

In it we see as famous actress Sylvia (Ekberg) becomes finally liberated as she leaves a stuffy party (and her obnoxious fiancé) and ventures into the night with journalist Marcello (Mastroianni).
He seems baffled by her every move and just hovers around her as she barks, coos and eventually finds a tiny white kitten.
She urges Marcello to find milk for her new friend and despite the hour he decides his mission is to oblige her.
He leaves to find the milk as Sylvia wanders the streets of Rome.

This sequence has a dreamlike quality that might remind you of Jean Cocteau's work (it helps that Nino Rota's score is so magnificent).

After trying to find her way in the urban labyrinth Sylvia finds something that makes her say "oh my goodness".
It's as if she was a goddess being called back to Olympus.

When Marcello arrives with the milk he finds Sylvia has decided to take a bath in the Fontana de Trevi as the kitten waits outside.
"Marcello come here!" she demands and who is he to say no?

Do you remember that this is the exact same scene we watch in Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation?
While Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) lie in bed having champagne in Japanese wooden cups, they too are enthralled by Ekberg's larger than life presence.
But there's a reason why Coppola used this precise moment and it's also the reason why I love the following shot so much, like Marcello and Sylvia, Lost in Translation is all about a stolen moment, taking a glimpse of a life you know you will never get to have, it's no coincidence that in both movies we are moved by characters we should envy or simply despise.

Marcello finally approaches Sylvia but finds that he can't even bring himself to touch her.
This is my favorite shot in the film because it encompasses all the themes Fellini discussed, in a simple, miraculously layered way.
It's essentially a moment that talks about separation.
Be it Marcello's and Sylvia's social differences, which are real despite what Roman Holiday had to say seven years before this film was released.
There's also the fact that Marcello can not cheat on his girlfriend anymore and how he should try and remain professional.
But beyond the obvious connotations Fellini is also showing us how afraid Marcello has become of real life, of finding happiness.
This is a theme that pervades throughout the entire film and the director never judges his characters but we constantly see them come close to reaching what they want only to be overwhelmed and surrendering once again to the sweet life.
In fact, this very shot, leads us to wonder, what is the dolce vita Fellini is referring to? Is it the idea of happiness surrounded by excess or is it the actual life that these characters never reach?
Is la dolce vita the idea of Sylvia or Sylvia herself?

I love that Marcello uses his hands in the same way he uses them throughout the movie, he's always making gestures and using his hands to express himself.
And something about Mastroianni's expression makes this innocuous moves funny and heartbreaking.
It's as if life is always slipping through his fingers.

This post is part of the Hit Me With Your Best Shot series, hosted by the dolce Nathaniel of The Film Experience.

1 comment:


Great choice for a shot. i love that moment too. And maybe that's what we're feeling as viewers with Fellini pictures which confound in some ways but they're so beautiful that we're helpless. You can look but not touch.