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La Dolce Vita
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that La Dolce Vita is a classic 1960 drama that may appeal to teen film buffs. This famed black-and-white film about the sexual escapades of the early European jet set announced the artistry of Italian director Federico Fellini to American audiences. Sex and the pursuit of women are discussed. Drinking, smoking, suicide, philandering, and a mindless quest for fame and money are all on display. Nothing here would really shock teens but they may not understand or be interested in the subtleties of a life in decline, particularly one illustrated in black and white. The movie's final sequence illustrates a dissipated gossip reporter's complete surrender to debauchery and silliness as he and a fast crowd of the too-idle and the too-rich drink, play strip games, and make plans to pair off. Alcohol fuels his cynicism as he loses all hope of redemption. A man commits suicide after shooting his two young children. A bullet hole is seen in his temple. One child is seen in a crib, looking as if he were sleeping. A man slaps his girlfriend in public. Adults drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, kiss onscreen, and make love off screen. Language includes "s--t," "bastard," "whore" and "damn."
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What's the story?
In LA DOLCE VITA, Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni), a reporter on the celebrity beat, hangs out at Roman cafes and nightclubs looking for news of starlets and other celebrities. Marcello flirts with the attractive women he encounters through work. He has sex with a wealthy partygoer (Anouk Aimee), whose detachment intrigues him. His live-in girlfriend endures the philandering, certain that one day he’ll give the women up for marriage, children, and her smothering affection. While waiting, she overdoses on prescription medication, recovering soon after. When a Swedish bombshell movie star (Anita Ekberg) arrives in Rome, Marcello woos her, then recedes when her interest wanes, but not before famously wading in the Trevi Fountain and being punched by her muscular boyfriend. But Marcello is better than all that and he reminds himself of the better man he believes himself to be when he visits an admired writer friend, a man who represents the integrity and seriousness Marcello yearns for. When the man later shoots his small children and himself, Marcello's aspiration to literary heights vanishes and he becomes a publicist for high-paying celebrity clients, organizing bored jet setters into performing a striptease here and having an orgy there. (An orgy is planned but never happens.) In the end he's confronted with a moment of what might be genuine feeling but seems too far gone to respond.
Is it any good?
La Dolce Vita ("Sweet Life" in English) has a vibrance that lives beyond the details of the late 1950s that made it seem ahead of its time then and dated now. When the sharp observations of Federico Fellini were introduced to American audiences in the form of this episodic Italian satire, the movie became a hit. Granted he picks easy targets: the idle rich, the simple-minded and hedonistic aristocracy, the idolized world of Hollywood and the journalists and photographers who put them all on pedestals, but Fellini scolds them kindly. His are not the rights and wrongs of the Bible -- Fellini has nothing against sex. His prostitute may be the single most straightforward and likable character in the film. It's illusions about sex, and important things that sex can be used to replace -- like love, loyalty, sincerity -- that get his attention. He targets what we now might nostalgically view as innocent days when reporters covering nonsense for a paycheck actually still dreamed of writing great novels because people actually still read them. What makes Fellini stand out from the crowd is the way he sees those frenzied earlier days of publicity and marketing forces as the onset of greater decay, forces we now know would eventually create Kardashians and their like. Felini sees the future and it's us. In fact, the origin of the word "paparazzi" (plural in Italian) comes from the actual surname, Paparazzo, of one of the dogged celebrity photographers in the film.
Mastroianni is the perfect combination of gentlemanly, seductive, shallow, intelligent, beautiful, weak, and strong to make the down-low journalist hunting for celebrity news believable as someone who aspires to something greater. When the writer friend he idolizes kills his small children and himself, Marcello's fragile illusions are shattered. All hope of giving up La Dolce Vita for higher achievement and self-respect evaporates. In the "fun" of the bored socialites, aristocrats, and celebrities, Fellini conveys post-World War II desperation. People who managed to overcome life and death circumstances when the world was at war struggle in Fellini's world to inject meaning into peace time. Under those circumstances, he suggests, no amount of drinking, sex, stripping, or flirting gives anyone any real pleasure at all. An unconventional narrative design may confuse younger viewers or just plain leave them cold. But the movie is not unstructured. It opens and closes with bookends of blocked communication -- pretty neat for a movie about a reporter. La Dolce Vita won the Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Director.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way that at first Marcello's life looks glamorous in La Dolce Vita but as the action continues his life seems more desperate and silly. What are some of the signs that he's not happy with the direction he takes?
How do you think Fellini's portrayal of celebrity compares with the way the media treat celebrities today?
Does this movie stand the test of time? Why or why not? Are the themes still relevant?
How would you remake this movie?
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