Monday 16 April 2018 1.34am
La dolce vita 1960
A Federico Fellini Film
La dolce vita ranks 39th and 37th in the respective Critics’ and Directors’ Polls from 2012.
It’s a significant achievement to rank in the Top 50 of both Polls. When I reached the end I think I understood the ground the film was exploring but to rank it as one of the Ten Best films ever made, which 33 critics and 13 directors did, was surprising. Of course, there have been a lot of surprises along the way. The most recognisable names on the directors poll were Mike Figgis, Richard Eyre and Greg Mottola. On the critics list, I only recognised one name: Roger Ebert.
At the end, I felt satisfied, but I was only whelmed by La dolce vita. I wasn’t overwhelmed or underwhelmed, just a little confused but its universal standing. I can only imagine I’ll be similarly confused at the end of 8½ (1963).
There are quite a few characters who say very pretentious things. Sometimes it’s understandable because they’re famous or because they’re rich or because they seem to have too much time on their hands. Few of the characters are down to earth, Marcello is the most real of them all, however, even though he has pretentions. It’s probably deliberate but the depictions of this kind of person are frequently caricatures. Maybe there’s a blend of outrageous dialogue that had people in Italy rolling in the aisles while I was more quietly rolling my eyes. I don’t know. I need to explore more about this film.
Since watching Juliet of the Spirits, I vitelloni and La strada, I have stared to read some articles (two actually – Richard Roud’s book and the article in FILM) on Fellini, trying to understand what motivates him and what people see and like in his work. I’ve only read the bits of the articles that discuss the films I’ve already seen , not the ones which are on the list to see. But already, I get the fact that his films contain, for the most part during this period between 1953 and 1965, autobiographical elements. With that information it’s an easy association to see that the Marcello character would represent a lot of things about Fellini himself. Especially so, because by naming the character after the actor playing him, it points to the fact that it represents something real – an in-joke, I’m guessing. Also, because that character – Marcello – lives in a similar world to where Fellini would have found himself in 1959. Already the winner of major awards – with numerous important award nominations – around the world for his work, he would have been mixing with the types he describes in this depiction of the rich and famous. Whether he is lampooning them, just identifying them for who they are, or neatly skewering them, presumably Marcello’s world is almost exactly Fellini’s world. Fellini, also presumably, would ask himself what he thinks of his own work and its value as a film, as a work of art and whether he sees himself as an artist or a pretender? The questions that Marcello the journalist, the reporter, one of the paparazzi, who is lucky enough to brush Italy’s elite, asks himself are, a) could I write something worthwhile and b) could I be more than a writer of puff-pieces for “Fascists papers”?
In Fellini’s world – especially as an artist who co-writes the films he directs – it makes sense that he wonders where he fits into the bigger picture. As a writer-director he’s going to receive the success or the blame when anyone gives there opinion about his latest film, whether they’re a friend, a colleague, a journalist, a critic or someone who saw it at a Film Festival or in a cinema. While he had acknowledgment for La strada and I vitelloni – both nominated for Oscars for Best Screenplay, and Nights of Cabiria nominated for Cannes’ Palme d’Or, and by 1958, a three-time winner of the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists’ Best Director award, he would have experienced his fair share of criticism as well. And criticism to artists is often felt and taken personally. At the very least, it makes you question whether film journalists giving you awards means that your a successful hack or someone with real artistic talent. Or whether Oscar nominations are pure tokenism.
Marcello in La dolce vita wants to be a writer and appreciates good writing and good painting and the good things in life but knows that he’s just a man who writes stories about sensations. He’s the newspaper equivalent of a hack. He wants to be more than what he knows he is deep down. But he probably can’t.