Dolce vita, La [1960]

At three brief hours, La Dolce Vita, a piece of cynical, engrossing social commentary, stands as Federico Fellini's timeless masterpiece. A rich, detailed panorama of Rome's modern decadence and sophisticated immorality, the film is episodic in structure but held tightly in focus by the wandering protagonist through whom we witness the sordid action. Marcello Rubini (extraordinarily played by Marcello Mastroianni) is a tabloid reporter trapped in a shallow high-society existence. A man of paradoxical emotional juxtapositions (cool but tortured, sexy but impotent), he dreams about writing something important but remains seduced by the money and prestige that accompany his shallow position. He romanticizes finding true love but acts unfazed upon finding that his girlfriend has taken an overdose of sleeping pills. Instead, he engages in an ménage à trois, then frolics in a fountain with a giggling American starlet (bombshell Anita Ekberg), and in the film's unforgettably inspired finale, attends a wild orgy that ends, symbolically, with its participants finding a rotting sea animal while wandering the beach at dawn. Fellini saw his film as life affirming (thus its title, The Sweet Life), but it's impossible to take him seriously. While Mastroianni drifts from one worldly pleasure to another, be it sex, drink, glamorous parties, or rich foods, they are presented, through his detached eyes, are merely momentary distractions. His existence, an endless series of wild evenings and lonely mornings, is ultimately soulless and facile. Because he lacks the courage to change, Mastroianni is left with no alternative but to wearily accept and enjoy this "sweet" life. --Dave McCoy

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