Italian Film Festival

La Dolce Vita

Info: Italy, 1960, 174 mins, DCP

Language: Italian with English Subtitles

Director: Federico Fellini

Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimée, Yvonne Furneaux, Alain Cuny


  • Monday January 6, 2020 - 6:30 pm
  • Wednesday January 8, 2020 - 1:00 pm

"Everything has changed, and nothing has changed. How sour it still is." David Fear, Time Out (2011)

Federico Fellini was born 100 years ago, January 20, 1920. Sixty years ago, he released La Dolce Vita, an epochal movie, a film that that in so many ways defined the freedoms and frustrations of the 1960s, an international sensation that cemented Italian cinema’s reputation as a world-beater, and which would even impact the language: the term “paparazzi” derives from the photo journalist character named Paparazzo, here.

In La Dolce Vita (‘The Sweet Life’) Marcello Mastroianni’s playboy reporter is simultaneously repelled and attracted by the debauchery of Roman high society… an environment in which today’s celebrity super rich would feel right at home. Fellini sets the scale with one of the most audacious opening shots in the history of the movies: a helicopter lifting a statue of Christ up and out of the city of Rome. Later, there’s an even more iconic image, when busty starlet Anita Ekberg cavorts in the Trevi Fountain.

“The film first impinged on the world at large in February 1960 when foreign journalists reported back to their readers, listeners and viewers on the controversial reception in Italy, where it divided audiences, critics and clerics, and led to Fellini being both spat on and cheered at the Milan premiere. A sense of immense excitement was created, and when the movie reached London via Cannes, we went to see it expecting to be shocked. And we were, both by the frank treatment of sexual matters (especially of homosexuality, then illegal in Britain), by the blasphemy (though to fully appreciate this you had to be Catholic), and above all by the scope of its vision.

Fellini had won two Oscars for Best Foreign Language film in the 1950s (for La Strada and Nights of Cabiria) and was to win a further two (for  and Amarcord), but La Dolce Vita introduced him to a popular audience far beyond the art house circuit. It also introduced three terms into the English language. The first is ’Felliniesque’ as an adjective to describe something quirkily outlandish or bizarre in the style of the director. The second is ’paparazzi’, the pejorative term for brazen celebrity-stalking photographers, named after the journalist hero’s camera-toting sidekick Paparazzo, which in turn was borrowed from a hotelier in George Gissing’s 1901 travel book, By the Ionian Sea. The third, of course, is the title, La Dolce Vita, used ironically thereafter to describe a shallow materialistic lifestyle, though Fellini claimed he’d used it without irony to mean ’the sweetness of life’ rather than ’the sweet life’.

The movie centres on Marcello Rubini, a writer from a provincial middle-class family, who has set aside his literary ambitions to become a fashionable gossip columnist and reporter on the sensational activities of the smart sybarites around the Via Veneto. They’re an assortment of international aristocracy, showbiz folk, dubious nouveaux-riches, and their assorted hangers-on. He’s a handsome, ambitious, morally weak character, played by Marcello Mastroianni, an established matinee idol in Italy who was to become an international star through this movie. He was also to be Fellini’s alter ego in three further films, most significantly 8½ as a director reviewing his life while incapable of continuing production of an expensive film at Cinecittà.

Setting aside the small gestures, the delicate observation of daily life and the sympathetic characterisation associated with neo-realism, La Dolce Vita is a large-scale satire with grand set pieces and forceful visual metaphors. Its target is a godless society that has become a kind of hell (there are pointed references to Dante) and it has rightly been compared with TS Eliot’s depiction of a moribund post-First World War Europe in The Waste Land.” Philip French, The Guardian