Saturday, January 29, 2022

Film Club Featurette: La Dolce Vita (1960)

On Saturday evening, 12 February at 18:31, the Phnom Penh Film Club tackles one of the greatest motion pictures of all time, the film that gave the world the term ‘paparazzi,’ Federico Fellini’s masterpiece *La Dolce Vita* (1960), starring Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, and Anouk Aimée. 
What Charley Kauffman has always struggled over—to capture the ringing contradictions of his own universe as a filmmaker—is the thing Fellini makes look so easy, both here with La Dolce Vita and with the equally compelling follow-up, *8-1/2*. Himself adrift in a sea of vapid glamour-mongering and fawning insincerity, Fellini in the late 1950s endeavored to articulate the strain of both the glitterarti lifestyle and his own simmering dissatisfaction with it, and to articulate all of it on film. The result is an atonal and effectively plotless urban travelogue in which Mastroianni plays “Marcello,” a tabloid stringer on semi-structured leave in Rome. 
Through Marcello’s eyes we witness calculated narcissism, transactional insecurity, flat-footed compliments, mob-like impromptu photo shoots, casual sex, burning infatuation, surreal tableaux, insane artistic genius and at least mildly pitiable vulnerabilities, among rather a lot else. At every turn the tour is marked by rock-solid performances, slow-burning character investment, positively gorgeous compositions and distinctly on-brand cinematic absurdity (viz, the extended panning shot of a Christ statue airlifted above the skyline by helicopter). The whole situation is at once so arrestingly incongruous as to demand recognition, and peopled by a cohort whose acknowledgement of the absurdity would wreck their own cushy situations.   
Fellini was a storied titan of European filmmaking even before setting pen to paper on this astonishing work of brilliance, and it shows in both the chances that he allows himself to take and the totality with which they pay gloriously off. Upon its release the critical acclaim was universal and unceasing. The New York Times called La Dolce Vita “a brilliantly graphic estimation of a whole swath of society in sad decay and, eventually, a withering commentary on the tragedy of the over-civilized.” Kevin Thomas of the LA Times called it “one of the key works of modern cinema,” and it was Roger Ebert’s very first paid review and, to this day, his number-one all-time favourite film. “Fellini and Mastroianni took a moment of crucial self-discovery, and made it literally immortal,” he said, writing for Sight & Sound’s Greatest Movies Ever.  
I hope everyone will plan to join us on Saturday for this breathtaking work of cinematic art. Very, very few films are as essential to the viewing history of an aspiring cinephile, and essentially none of the others are anything like as fabulous to watch.  

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