Sunday, January 17, 2010

"Dolce" et Decorum Est...

That Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita is a challenging film is a fact few would argue. At the best of times, Fellini is an indulgent filmmaker, and at nearly three hours, Dolce contains more of that indulgence than most of his movies. Watching the film, now, its status as a classic is hardly in doubt, though at times it seems to have achieved this status in spite of itself.

Dolce is an episodic film depicting the life of Marcello, a gossip reporter played by the soon-to-be mega star Marcello Mastroianni. A series of distinct day and evening scenes depicts the somewhat listless, haphazard movements of Marcello's life. The film has been likened to a journey into the underworld, following Marcello's descent into greater and greater depravity.

It's hard not to read into the film a certain tension between the celebration of wealth and the corruption it brings. Almost everyone Marcello encounters is well-moneyed, from the celebrities and aristocrats he writes about to the artsy friends he visits. And while the film at times seems to celebrate their opulence, shifting aside narrative in order to focus on dancing and decor, it also seems to criticize, with increasing sharpness, the way these rich characters seem to do nothing at all of any use or permanence with their money.

Mastroianni plays Marcello as a man drifting, almost out-of-control, through a life he didn't even choose. At some point Marcello wanted to be a novelist, but associating with the rich seems to have blunted his ambition. He's cruel and neglectful of his codependent fiancee (Yvonne Furneaux), and is unfaithful to her in thought and in action. But he is also envious of his friend Steiner (Alain Cuny) and the way he marries a writing career & hip social life to a seemingly happy family. Mastroianni underplays Marcello's own neediness, and only occasionally allows us to see the deep pain and hurt feelings underlying Marcello's confident front, as when he struggles to care for (and be cared for by) his visiting, always-travelling father.

While the screenplay (by Fellini and a group of collaborators including Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli and an uncredited Pier Paolo Pasolini) follows Marcello's descent, its episodic nature causes some problems. While critics are quick to compare the (roughly) seven "days" to such things as the seven deadly sins, it's not always clear that each episode shows Marcello losing anything specific from such external schemas. And although the film contains clear criticisms of useless wealth, powerless religion, and the difficulties of genuine communication, it suffers from a bagginess that its subject can't always justify.

"Dolce" is a great film, and this is hardly in dispute. Some segments are more enjoyable to watch than others, and its length and meandering narrative make it a tough film for non-cinephiles and Fellini neophytes to get through. But Nino Rota's lively score, Otello Martelli's sharp cinematography, and Anita Ekberg's great... er... assets are enough to keep many non-film lovers paying attention. In the end, the film's significance within Fellini's career (it is often noted as the dividing line between Neo-realist "early" Fellini and his more fantastical "mature" style) alone makes it worth watching. And while you may feel that Fellini himself didn't have a clear point to make, he serves up more than an ample amount of material to allow the audience to find a resonating meaning of its own.

No comments:

Post a Comment