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Catching Up with a Classic: ‘La Dolce Vita’

Catching Up with a Classic: ‘La Dolce Vita’


Throughout January, SOS writers will be biting the bullet and finally sitting down with a film they feel like bad film buffs for not having seen already.

La Dolce Vita
Directed by Federico Fellini
Screenplay by Federico Fellini
1960, Italy

Had I seen La Dolce Vita at an earlier age I would not have appreciated it the same way I do now. I’m sure I would have gotten caught up in the wild ride main character Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni) takes. The spiralling mix of booze, women, and empty pleasure, the endless nights of loud music boxing one’s ears, and the mumbling alcohol dreams of a blonde that couldn’t possibly exist. This all would have been delightful to the younger, more irresponsible me. It meant nothing to feel nothing, and any hauntings of a void could be squashed with a smirk and a wry word of expression.

For who I am now, it was the vacancy and desperation of Marcello that I identified with so well. In every quasi-vignette we see noticeable cracks in his polished and confident facade. There is a yearning he can’t define, and it can’t be doused with the faux-intelectualism of detached artists, or the manic love he can either give or receive. It can’t be anything he can name properly, and the closer he feels to it the more the shape of things seem lost.

Some of us go our entire lives looking in and out of mirrors searching for that eternal grace to define us as individuals. We would give anything to be that fish, strong enough to leave the water for a moment and catch the sun,  to stand out, and be remembered, if only for a brief passage of time, or the blink of a fisherman’s eye. And some of us, like Marcello, give up. Our knees buckle and give in to the weight of compromise, like a thousand pounds of feathers resting on our backs. In the end for Marcello, all of life is spent in endless consciousness, a sunny day too bright, a dream without color.

The world slows down with age, and soon those optimistic dreams from our youth become grains of sand on a beach, lost among the dreams of other fools who dared to be so bold in their brief invincibility. It is when we discover the frailty of life, when we are constantly reminded that we bleed like any other. That is when, if our legs are strong enough, we might find something beyond the undefinable yearnings of any age, something poetic and true to who we’ve become, stretching beyond our grasp for art, love, and beauty, and finding us as human beings, upright and enlightened. Marcello never found it, and I am glad I saw his failure when I did.

– James Merolla