Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960) – The Failure of Success

Federico Fellini Marathon Part III of VI

Okay, now for the real debate: was Marcello pimpin’ or was he simpin’?

This is the endless social wandering of wanting to be something that you can’t, and one that you could never know nor picture. La Dolce Vita is the upper-class existentialist’s crusade: a chaotic meddle of materialistic beauty and the hideous people that inhabit it. Imagine yourself tied to relationships that for some reason you can’t leave, like a prison used poorly to reach the character to which you would fancy inhabiting. Why are the ones who love always attracted to the ones who can’t? Why can’t the ones who can’t can despite them wanting to? Why do we only share the accomplishments of our careers when we all fear self-destruction, and choose to cover it up with our richness and fame? Why is when tragedy is finally spoken of, it’s exploited in tabloids and heartless photographs rather than in the genuine nature of caring and connecting with one another? In other words, why do we choose to complicate who we are to those that encompass us rather than relate to them in sincerity? Is it from the peace that we gain in believing the impossible? Or, is it just that we aren’t built to do so; our species is simply incapable of succeeding in this surreal desire for genuine love? Is the world just this cynically pointless, even at our wealthiest and most physically attractive? Are we that indicative to our intellectuality that it has only led us back into a pothole of mindless games and daftness? 

A whole lot of questions and not a whole lot of answers… for deliberate reasons of course. Really, “Hedonism” seems to be the sole solution that these people know of.

La Dolce Vita arguably has some of the richest (no pun intended) location scouting I’ve ever come to encounter; it’s an absolute hypnotic feast. I love how “in the moment” this movie can be, lingering onto the fun that these people experience but constantly insisting on its shallowness and desperation to elicit purpose. The scale of this project is unlike anything Fellini has done up until this point too, showcasing his knack for representing the post-Fascist Italian world in an appropriately deceiving black-and-white aesthetic of allure. Case in point, this is by far Fellini’s finest looking movie; it really is just a three-hour production orgasm. 

Fellini’s laborious work here feels like a slow gallery-walk of beautiful melancholy, but that’s either going to break it or make it for viewers, and it even had a bit of a toll on me too from finding it to be consecutively perfect. Admittedly, it’s very reliant on poetic abruptness and repetition, but not necessarily in a way that would have me completely perturbed by the film, as it more so just unceasingly made me fall victim to Marcello’s descent into meaninglessness. Like I said before, it’s sort of an elongated string of these visually gorgeous, half-hour segments that are paradoxically meant to make you feel sorrower and sorrower at the continuous failure of post-work success, and the somewhat avoidable yet bizarrely tempting hell it seizes us into. Oh, and the failure of post-family success… and post-life, like… just in general, success. Sheesh, what a Debby-downer La Dolce Vita is.

Verdict: A-

Federico Fellini Ranked, My All-Time Favorites

“La Dolce Vita” is now available to purchase physically on the Criterion Collection’s website.

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