Fellini’s ‘La Dolce Vita’; Moral Vacancy Never Looked So Good

100303-dolce-vita-1-aI just watched Federico Fellini’s ‘La Dolce Vita’ for the first time.  At the end I was left a little confused.  Why is this movie so revered?  It seemed at first a series of tenuously related vignettes centered around a handsome but vapid guy, Marcello, and his fickle obsession with all things female finding temporary focus in whatever beautiful woman that seems to be around and relatively convenient.  At times charming, funny, dull, strange, touching, tired and maddening, the movie swings from one setting to the next, seemingly without much plot connection.  Although I will allow that this confusion may be a product of my also trying to treat La Dolce Vita as an Italian language lesson, rewinding various scenes  to hear a word re-pronounced again and again.  Playing a foreign film on arbitrary repeat is a sure-fire recipe for plot disjunction.

I will say, though, that I had an initial hint of something ‘more’ hidden beneath the surface vacuity with the opening sequence of the statue of Jesus being flown in by hellicopter.  This scene was too strange, too particular to not have some deeper meaning.   And, lets face it, focusing the camera on a flying statue of Jesus could be something of a shortcut to metaphoric reference.  Nevertheless, it was not until later post-movie reflection that I started to understand this scene.  Though Jesus was leading the way through life, Marcello was too easily diverted from this ’straight and narrow’ course by the slightest glimpse of a woman.  An encapsulation of the lustful human condition?  Or is it the ‘Italian condition’?

It was not until further reading after the film that I realized that Fellini had thought out the sequence and setting of the movie quite extensively.  The scenes supposedly fit into the framework of seven ‘days’, evening and morning.  And the entire film is a study of the decay and moral devolution of modern culture.  Hmmm… did I miss something?  Evidently Fellini expended some substantial brain power on this one.  And obviously, it deserves another look from me.  From what I can discern in the ink spilled about La Dolce Vita, there is a lot of material that can be mined from within this film.  A welcome change from the vacuity of most films today.  But I will say this – I find the typical poster image for this film, of the blond bombshell Sylvia, to be misleading.  But… maybe that is the point.