la dolce vita (1960)
Fellini weaves a tapestry of a film. Sprawling odyssey overtakes the notions that we might linger for a bit longer with any one of our trysts, and they are each romances in one way or another. La Dolce Vita becomes Romantic stones along a path, stopping to relish in each facet of Marcello's life just long enough to glimpse some beauty, then it's off to the races again. Passion and obligation ring counterpoint, interwoven are strands of family, work, friendship and all seem to fall away when arriving at the right hour of night, that hour just before sunrise, when all souls seem to sleep, when all actions seem a secret and a mystery. Fellini relishes living in this hour for much of the film, always leading his scenarios there, his characters seeming to fear sleep, fear losing touch with this world. A fear of stopping the rush of Earthly delights and experiences. What begins with the helicopters flying with God made material in tow ends on a sand beach outside the city; as Marcello looks on at one whom he made an impression on, we get the feeling that Marcello has lived many of these sweet lives since last seeing her. He can't remember the past, that chapter is closed, and like all things to we, the people of today, he shrugs it off and goes back with the group to continue the entertainment. The film does not fade out before she looks to us as well, the viewer peering in, does she wonder if we remember her too? La Dolce Vita is, like all great works of art, unable to be summarized, merely lived inside of and responded to. The odyssey unravels, finally coming to its darkest hours just before its final epilogue sequence, bathed in white, like Marcello's new jacket, a narrative sunrise, the film following the same trajectory as each of Marcello's restless evenings.
Each night, a new life unto itself in La Dolce Vita. Dancing flames attract our attention, entice the senses and mesmerize us. Fellini effortlessly beckons us in, joining with its characters in an attempt to reach out, take hold of a flame, instantly finding it impossible, even singeing our fingers. The world stood fascinated at each spectacle and the press was there to carve life up and feed it back to them with plenty of spice. Cannibalizing life itself and human experience into processed and easily digested bites; this was the method by which all meaning was drained away. Life and experience became cheap commodity, and Fellini was there to capture its early roots. The Paparazzo character is the new Italian, the new man, running forward without regard, only tied to his sense of attaining and possessing what he can capture, without meaning or purpose, just an eye for what will gain attention and sell. Marcello becomes our own surrogate sense of fascination with the mystery, fascination with what fascinates other people. What is there to these larger than life figures? The movie star, the religious symbol, the human beings who populate the worlds around these objects of desire and give them critical mass to become such objects, is anyone really fascinated? Or just wondering what all the noise is about? We wonder about what interests other people. La Dolce Vita blurs all lines in the truly relativist sense; impossible to say who in Marcello's life is loved and who is a fascination, who is true and merely an epigraph of truthfulness. We rarely see life outside of the glow of an evening drink. Marcello's humoring of his father's surprise appearance, only to break down in a plea to stay as his frailty is made known. Just as Marcello projects an imaginary scenario where they will really spend some time, good time, as father and son, if only he would stay for one more day, a taxi honks its horn to take his father away, out of town. This is life in our day, somehow, the world projected to us as narrative, our mental images that our world could mimic these narratives, if only we could have the time to do so, and life moving ever forward, somehow the images are just out of reach, we almost had them. How sweet life would be if it would simply conform to our imagination of it. All around are others, seemingly living this life, and we are but grasping at it, holding on when we've got it for a moment, all is transient, all seems to slip away. People and faces dance in and out of life, a ballet of personalities in La Dolce Vita. Maddalena, who seems his only true lover in all of the film, a disembodied voice is in his mind finally reaching out, is caught up in a new affair of her own at that very moment. And so, Fellini weaves the world of those who chase the spectacle, an admonition in many ways and deeply understood pardon of those who fall victim to it. Fellini, as the best of all artists, shows us his autobiographical tale without making excuses for himself and so can show us weakness as well as judgement. The sun rises on each scenario showing a hazy clarity to the events that preceded it, Why did Marcello chase all night only to come up seemingly empty handed when all is said and done? As we move onward, it seems to be that chasing the ability to be involved in the chase is truly the goal, and so where does it all end up? The thrills are endless, as the old clown leading a troupe of balloons around the room, as the mediums contact the dead simply to hear what they have to say. The chase will never be through and we will never see rest, even in death. That's the beauty of this confusion.
Fascination that stems from communing with those outside of our world, and the carelessness with which we treat those inside of our world. The desire to bring those outside in, and the complacent notion that losing those who are already in won't matter to us at all. La Dolce Vita, like no other film, captures the sense of selfish loneliness that permeates all, and increasingly does so as the years go on. To be alone is by complete choice, and to chase those who we cannot tell the difference between our own desire and the perceived desire of the 'public'. To gather in the rain and follow the children who have seen the Madonna, hang on their every word and somehow it alters our own thought process. Fellini leaves us with the modern confusion; that chasing the divine and the hedonistic always end up feeling like the same thing. If we have to honest with ourselves, perhaps we feel the same regardless of which it is. All through this odyssey, we find those with a distinction between the two, and all that most of us can do is shrug, and follow the group back inside for more entertainment. Fellini has succeeded in both, we are entertained and deeply moved, we are deeply changed and even more aloof. In the best sense, we've felt what makes all life continue. We've felt the chase.