(The Sweet Life)
Director: Federico Fellini
Production: Riama Film (Rome) and Pathé Consortium Cinéma (Paris); black and white, 35mm. Totalscope; running time: 180 minutes. Released February 1960. Rome. Filmed 16 March-27 August 1959 in Rome, the Odescalchi Palace, Fregene, and in the studios of Cinecittà.
Producers: Giuseppe Amato with Angelo Rizzoli, and Franco Magli as executive producer; screenplay: Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Brunello Rondi, and Ennio Flaiano, from an original story by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli and Ennio Flaiano; photography: Otello Martelli; editor: Leo Cattozzo; sound: Agostino Moretti; art director: Piero Gherardi; music: Nino Rota; costume designer: Piero Gherardi; artisic collaborator: Brunello Rondi.
Cast: Marcello Mastroianni ( Marcello Rubini ); Walter Santesso ( Paparazzo, the photographer ); Anouk Aimée ( Maddalena ); Adriana Moneta ( Prostitute ); Yvonne Furneaux ( Emma, Marcello's mistress ); Anita Ekberg ( Sylvia, a Hollywood star ); Lex Barker ( Robert, Sylvia's fiancée ); Alan Dijon ( Frankie Stout ); Alain Cuny ( Steiner ); Valeria Ciangottini ( Paola ); Annibale Ninchi ( Marcello's father ); Magali
Cannes Film Festival, Gold Palm, 1960; Oscar for Best Foreign Picture,
1961; New York Film Critics Award, Best Foreign Film, 1961.
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* * *
Fellini's epic study of the loss of values at the climax of the Italian "economic miracle," delineates the daily activities of a writer, turned reporter for a sensationalist journal, who is too deeply compromised by the degeneracy around him to see it, never mind report on it. The opening and closing scenes of the film are cleverly matched allusions to Dante which underscore the moral loss and its consequences for Italy, at the very moment when the revival of Fascism was beginning to make a difference in the balance of political powers.
Marcello follows a helicopter delivering a monumental statue of Christ, on a tow line, to the Vatican. From his own helicopter, he flirts with women sunbathing on a roof. The noise of the machine drowns out his voice as he tries to shout for their telephone numbers. In a parallel scene of shot-countershot the film ends with Marcello accosted by a charming and innocent girl who had once waited on his table. A stretch of water separates them and the noise of the sea makes her words inaudible to him. An Italian audience might recognize the allusion to the Medusa of the Inferno in the grotesquely reified image of Christ soaring through the Roman sky; even more evident would be the figure of Matilda at the top of Purgatorio who represents the summit of earthly beauty, irradiated by divine grace. Marcello has lost the ability to react to the grossness of the former and the saving promise of the latter. The world he inhabits is as lost as he is: Marcello moves from prostitutes to aristocratic women while, at the same time, deceiving his girlfriend; his intellectual friend, Steiner, who had urged him to find more fulfilling work, kills himself and his children; he covers for his newspaper the scene of a false miracle where someone is trampled by the enthusiastic crowd; he follows an American movie star as she utters banalities and poses for the press. In the center of the film Marcello accompanies his father on his first night in Rome since he was one of Mussolini's blackshirts (this is subtly suggested by the old man's references, never bluntly stated). The father's physical collapse and profound embarrassment when he fails to perform with a prostitute predicts the hero's eventual confrontation with the limitation of his values, just as its suggests that the playboy figure of 1959, brilliantly represented by Marcello Mastroianni, is a modern version of the Fascist ideal.
The moral atmosphere of La dolce vita reflects that in all of Fellini's films, but the grandeur of its scale, the refusal to resort to a pitiful or lovable protagonist, and the accuracy of its caricatures make it one of his most enduring achievements. Its initial success was, however, due in great part to the supposedly daring and sensational manner with which it dealt with sexual themes. Actually, it was one of three films to emerge from Italy at the end of the 1950s which heralded a powerful renewal of that national cinema. The others were Michelangelo Antonioni's L'avventura and Luchino Visconti's Rocco e i suoi fratelli , both released in 1960.
—P. Adams Sitney