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.