by Allan Fish
(Italy/France 1960 174m) DVD1/2
Aka. The Sweet Life
This isn’t love, it’s brutalisation!
p Giuseppe Arnato d Federico Fellini w Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano, Brunello Rondi, Pier Paolo Pasolini ph Otello Martelli ed Leo Cattozzo m Nino Rota (including “Toccata and Fugue” by Johann S.Bach) art/cos Piero Gherardi
Marcello Mastroianni (Marcello Rubini), Anita Ekberg (Sylvia), Anouk Aimée (Maddalena), Alain Cuny (Steiner), Yvonne Furneaux (Emma), Magali Noel (Fanny), Nadia Gray (Nadia), Lex Barker, Jacques Sernas, Laura Betti,
No other film in the European cinema has had such a cultural impact as Fellini’s classic from the turn of the sixties, a film that represented the changing of the guard; both cinematically in terms of Fellini turning from his neo-realist roots, and in terms of a new direction for the cinema itself. Without it, perhaps the later Italian masters Pasolini (who helped on the script here) and Bertolucci would not have been so welcomed.
The plot of Dolce is difficult to pin down, not least because it doesn’t follow the traditional narrative structure, rather showing us a disparate collection of sequences seen through the observant eyes of Mastroianni’s immoral paparazzi wastrel. His Marcello truly is a womanising, untrustworthy hedonistic soul who represents his era in a nutshell, and we follow him through his early encounters with a Swedish film actress through the media circus of a potential religious miracle to a truly iconic final orgy in a seaside house where anything goes and nihilism reigns.
Though his later 8½ remains Fellini’s most personal film, Dolce is undoubtedly his most influential and, though forty years on many might find it a film of its time, I rather think it gets better with age. Its theme of paparazzi invading celebrity privacy was never more potent than now, as they descend around the pneumatic Ekberg like fmoths around a light, while scenes of the upper classes failing to find amusement for themselves and resorting to hedonism ring as true today as they seemed startling then. Many will see it and see glimpses of the future Satyricon, yet it also looks back to Petronius’ ancient original, and if the glory of ancient Rome is no more, its shadow still lingers. Never was that more demonstrated than in the opening sequence with a statue of Christ being flown by helicopter over the city to St Peter’s Square; the first thing it passes is the ruins of a Roman aquaduct. For these people, this statue blends in with the ruins, the religion of Christianity now seen as past its sell by date by the cynical intelligentsia. It’s a truly great sequence and a truly multi-layered opening statement.
Yet such sequences flow through Dolce, many of them featuring that most top-heavy of European sex-symbols, Anita Ekberg; the one dimensional actress in the ultimate three dimensional body. Marcello runs after her like a schoolboy promised his first sexual experience, literally panting after her as she ascends to the balcony high up above St Peter’s. Who can forget that wonderful shot where Ekberg clutches a kitten close to her more than ample bosum, before sending Mastroianni off to find milk in the early hours and finally enticing him to an impromptu but magical shower in the Trevi fountain? It’s a moment where the cinema itself stands still (literally in the case of the camera, as dawn seems to break within seconds).
In amongst such iconic imagery, it’s easy to forget the individual contributions. Did Rome ever look more ravishing than as photographed in Cinemascope by the great Otello Martelli, or did Nina Rota ever write a more iconic score for his frequent director collaborator than here (its main tune the unforgettable accompaniment to Nadia Gray’s impromptu striptease)? Mastroianni, too, cannot be praised enough for his portrayal of the ultimately frightfully bored protagonist, who is even too bored to see when, in the final moments, a young girl gives him an escape from his nihilistic ride and he cannot take it. This society is crumbling like the Roman aqueduct, but in capturing its very essence, Fellini created the most eternal film of all those about the eternal city.
Voted for by:
Shubhajit Lahiri (no.18)
Bill Riley (no.21)
Frank Aida (no.39)