The Harbinger Online

Safe From Larvae and Rust: La Dolce Vita

“…what makes a work of fiction safe from larvae and rust is not its social importance but its art, only its art”. — Vladimir Nabokov, 1964

As mentioned in a previous entry, La dolce vita (1960) is Italian director Federico Fellini’s other masterpiece besides 8 ½. It broke cinematic grounds in both style and narrative structure.

Made up of seven separate episodes of alternating day and night, the film follows Marcello (Mastroianni), a gossip columnist, as he weaves through the jungle of 1960 Rome. He chases after celebrities, sensationalist events, women, parties, more women and essentially la dolce vita: the sweet life. He searches desperately for passion and meaning in life but to no avail. Time and time again we watch Marcello become infatuated and vow his life to the different women who swim around him. Time and time again we watch his relationships and carousing parties crash and melt away into another lonely dusk or dawn.

Fellini contrasts and blends themes of the sacred and profane with virtuosity. Marcello’s yearning to be a novelist and produce intellectual writing clashes with his reality of meaningless yellow journalism. Stark images of the decaying civilization coexist with magical and religious symbolisms. The scenes and ideas flow together under Fellini’s expert camera moves into a fluid, perfectly composed painting, bursting with energy.

The film is often interpreted as a revealing social commentary on the decadence and excess pleasures of the rich and civilization. I think that above all, it shows the unique and magical world that Fellini has brilliantly conjured out of his own imagination. It will take a lot more than one viewing to grasp all the intricately woven themes, symbolisms and meanings. But anyone will be awed by the magnificence and magic of Fellini’s images on their first watch. The combination of earthy realism and baroque grandiosity creates a world that feels ever so strange and out of touch with reality.

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