Plot: What’s it about?
When I was in college, I was lucky enough to have a full academic scholarship and two loving parents that were willing to foot my other bills. I somehow convinced them that it would be a wonderful idea to let me spend two months in Italy over a summer taking courses through Florida State’s International Program. Of course, the classes were relatively easy. I spent most of my time drinking wine, smoking cigarettes, looking at art, and eating. My ex girlfriend that my parents hated followed me to Italy, and I spent very little time attempting my homework. Even though I didn’t spend a tremendous time engulfed in studies, I don’t think that my parents made a poor decision in backing the trip. I read Dante’s Inferno, saw works by Michelangelo, and learned how to get around Italy and converse in Italian decently. Also, the trip was right before my senior year of college, and immediately after graduating I began working a job and met my wife. It was really my last real bout of freedom before joining the real world. That trip always made me love Italy. I tend to watch a good amount of Italian films, and always hope that I will see places I have visited. It’s like bumping into an old friend or smelling your mother’s cooking. If you have ever been to Rome, then I believe that La Dolce Vita is essential viewing. If you haven’t been to Rome, this will make you want to plan a trip.
The plot of the film revolves around Marcello, a very well known journalist who specializes in interviewing the upper elite of Italian society and celebrities. Marcello is played brilliantly by Marcello Mastroianni, who would later star in 8 ½. Through the course of the film, Marcello navigates his affairs with a beautiful actress (Anita Ekberg,) a beautiful aristocrat (Anouk Aimee,) and his depressed girlfriend (Yvonne Fernaux.) He comes into contact with all sorts of upper elite, goes to a site where people claim to see the virgin Mary, and drives all over Rome in beautiful wide framed shots. Throughout the course of the film there is a slow unraveling of Marcello and people come in and out of his life just as people do in real life. The plot of the film is almost immaterial. There is a plot, but the film itself is really all about character driven exposition, and visual splendor.
The movie is all about location. Every set piece that Fellini shoots looks grandiose and beautiful. I am particularly fond of the club scenes and of course a very famous scene in the Trevi Fountain. The actors and actresses dress well and look fantastic. I am particularly fond of Anouk Aimee who popped up again in Jacques Demy’s Lola. The acting in the film is top notch. Marcello Mastroianni is perfect in the role of Marcello. He emanates cool (always smoking a cigarette, frequently drinking, and wearing those fantastic glasses.) Anita Ekberg was so sexy that even Fellini couldn’t help but have an affair with her. The movie’s run time is not short (clocking in at just under three hours,) but I personally can think of many two hour movies that I wish had cut out thirty minutes, whereas I didn’t want them to cut a shot from La Dolce Vita. That said, the final twenty minutes are a bit rough, and involve a scene that would border on abuse. It is a hard scene to watch, and at least you have been warned.
Video: How’s it look?
Criterion does a magic thing with this release. For a film made in 1960, the negatives look fantastic, and Criterion has lovingly ported a 4K digital restoration by The Film Foundation. This is EASILY one of the best transfers that I have ever seen Criterion complete, and puts their transfer of 8 ½ to shame. I can not imagine any possible way that the film could look any better than it does here. The black levels are fantastic and clarity is impeccable. If you are wondering if it is time to throw away your old DVD and buy the Blu Ray, I can say quite honestly that this is the only way to experience this masterpiece. The level of detail is unparalleled, even outdoing their incredible transfer of The Night of The Hunter, which I thought set the standard for restoration of black and white films.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Audio is presented in an uncompressed Italian LPCM Mono track. The mix itself, although relegated to the two front channels, was very bombastic at times. The club scenes are particularly immersive, as is the scene involving the siting of the Virgin Mary. The music in the film by Nino Rota is routinely excellent. I did not detect any noticeable hiss. Voices are clear as can be, and all is well with this track. Audiophiles will be very pleased with the track, and I see absolutely no problems with it at all.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- New interview with filmmaker Lina Wertmüller, an assistant director on the film. – Although short, I enjoyed her quick reminiscing on Fellini and Mastroianni
- New interview with scholar David Forgacs – I enjoyed this feature. It gave some good background info on Italy at the time of the filming.
- New interview with Italian journalist Antonello Sarno – A solid feature. Not quite as engrossing as the other features.
- Interview with director Federico Fellini from 1965 – A fantastic thirty minute interview with Fellini. This is really good stuff.
- Audio interview with actor Marcello Mastroianni from the early 1960s – A solid interview where Mastroianni talks about his relationship with Fellini, how they met, and more. I enjoyed this feature, although not being able to see him speak made it a little less entertaining.
- Felliniana, a presentation of La dolce vita ephemera from the collection of Don Young- This is just a collection of publicity advertisements and magazine layouts at the time of the release. Pretty neat if you are into that type of thing.
- New visual essay by filmmaker : : kogonada – This was the worst of the features. I would just skip this one, personally.
- An essay by critic Gary Giddins
The Bottom Line
After this film, Fellini would go on to do 8 ½ and Amarcord, which many consider his masterpieces. I am fond of 8 ½ and like Amarcord, but I love La Dolce Vita. Watching the film is like taking a trip to Rome, and there is only beautiful weather when you arrive. The film itself is so damn cool that it makes you want to run out and buy a bottle of Campari. Criterion has done an incredible job on the transfer, and I would say that this movie is a steal at any price. Go out and add this one to your collection. You will be glad that you did.