La Dolce Vita (1960)

Not Rated   |    |  Comedy, Drama

La Dolce Vita (1960) Poster

A series of stories following a week in the life of a philandering tabloid journalist living in Rome.


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27 November 2006 | tedg
Women: Handkerchiefs, Shirts and Bras
When it comes to art, the best one can do is receive it with grace, measure it against one's soul and if one is so inclined, speak from the heart about it. That's the only thing that matters, all else falling away. Comments about the execution are irrelevant, really. If someone talks about that, it isn't from their heart and doesn't really matter. This is excellently executed, but with art the only demand is that it cross a threshold of competence, making it close enough for us to reach. All else is decoration. Read elsewhere for comments on the decorative qualities of this.

I'll start from the end. I recommend you see this because it is a necessary launching ramp for "8 1/2." I believe that film is essential viewing for any citizen of the world, and to get it, you have to sit through this. Its roughly the same shape: Fellini himself, an empty and artless man posing as an artist who can only place himself in a definition of emptiness defined by the seven types of women.

In this world — a convincing one — women define the world by their being, and all spaces — physical spaces I mean — are carried by them into existence. Men merely stand between surrounding walls and the woman who made them whether she is present or not. When strained through the cloth of cinema, we have something like this film. (I wish some Japanese filmmaker would do for this what "H Story" did to "Hiroshima Mon Amore" but in Barcelona.)

So it is a competent film, even decorative. It is art, and for reasons beyond itself, you should see it.

But it doesn't measure well against my soul. Nor famously did it against Fellini's, which is why, after a celebrated crisis, he developed a different style for his next films. I suppose it is true that you could see this as about the bankruptcy of Roman aristocrats, or about more general bankruptcy of men. But I see it as about Fellini's own self inflicted, selfaware malaise.

But why is this one recommended to be rejected and the later one valued? Because of the cinematic form, dear friends. That's all that matters. Usually this form is considered realistic or neorealistic and the later films fantastic surreal. I think we can do better than that. The "neorealistic" films are composed by a self that stands outside. It sees and reports. It sees and judges; this is a film that assumes judgment. Its an essay, "explained" because both the filmmaker and the viewer stand outside it. Even the edges of the frame are perfectly placed, so as to remind us of the window we peer through.

"8 1/2" and his other project I admire ("Block-notes di un regista") have the filmmaker distinctly in the thing. The edges shift. We are invited in. Some things aren't clear, what we encounter hasn't been filtered to make sense for us. Its a party, but not one the camera understands, so we are in the midst of the battle instead of observing the party.

So if it is art you come for, you won't find it here unless you think competent decoration and impressive effect matter. What matters is whether the artist's blood mingles with ours, and Fellini didn't bleed until after this, probably because of this. Later, he did add that girl at the beach so his types of women total 8. I suppose you need to see this, then "8 1/2," then Greenaway's "8 1/2 Women."

It may not be the best way to capture a film, by bracketing it somehow. But it works for me in this case. This is just a bracket.


One could say things about many of the characters and performances, and I cannot resist mentioning one: Nico. In the next to last segment, she plays a top model engaged to a royal nitwit. We gather at his castle and go ghost-hunting where we are given the woman-outside- the-walls story. This was when she really was a top model and before she became Andy Warhol's primary avatar in the world. She originated the "Gothic" look copied by millions of girl misfits. She reinvented a form of sultry singing (then newly in rock) that turns the notion of this movie inside out: deliberately soulless and therefore attractive.

This film also brackets her amazing glow as the Chelsea Girl. THE Chelsea Girl.

You should know about her. She had a real life. We all live in the ashes, unbeknownst.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.

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