La Dolce Vita, 1960

Few films have indelibly defined society as caustically and honestly as Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni), a frustrated writer, is reduced to tabloid journalism in order to make ends meet. He spends every evening in Via Veneto – the venerable hotspot for people who want to be seen – vicariously awaiting the next scandal, party invitation, or sexual proposition. One evening is spent with an enigmatic woman named Maddalena (Anouk Aimee), whose dark sunglasses conceal a bruised eye. Her declared love for Marcello is merely whispered from a distance, deflected by the reverberating walls. Another evening is in Steiner’s (Alain Cuny) penthouse, a wealthy intellectual. Consumed by self-doubt and fleeting happiness, he is unable to enjoy his success. Still another evening is spent with a famous actress named Sylvia (Anita Ekberg). With the advent of dawn, she, too, returns to home to her boyfriend. Away from the nightlife of Via Veneto, he finds himself caught up in the carnival spectacle of a false sighting of the Virgin Mary (an episode that is also recounted in Nights of Cabiria). Soon the empty evenings seem to weave together into some decadent rhythm, punctuated only by the regret of the following morning. Fellini visually conveys the cycle through stairs: the descent to a prostitute’s flooded basement apartment, the climb to a church tower, the walk to a public fountain, the exploration of an unoccupied section of the princess dowager’s estate. Thematically, the film begins and ends with the same incident: Marcello, unable to hear the cryptic message, returns to his latest distraction… perhaps still dreaming of attaining the elusive sweet life.

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