Like most of Fellini’s films, LA DOLCE VITA is episodic in structure, following Marcello through a series of seemingly random encounters with lovers, friends and family. Thanks to brilliant direction and an eclectic cast (led by a mesmerizing, powerhouse performance from Mastroianni), the film at once manages to be an intense character study, as well as an exploitive commentary on society in this time and culture. Marcello immerses himself daily in the squalid cult of celebrities; going to lavish parties, sleeping with glamorous women (despite having a devoted girlfriend), and lusting after a Hollywood starlet (Anita Ekberg, in one of the most iconic, seductive roles ever)—things most “normal” people can only dream about. Despite all this excitement, Fellini also paints a scathingly ugly portrait. The rich, elite socialites depicted in the film (quite accurately, apparently) are complete nutcases, drunk with money and boredom. Even Marcello’s coworkers, the common working class, are sleazy paparazzi devoid of any sense of decency. So though he’s desperate for a change, Marcello feels helpless to leave this downward spiral of a lifestyle, pushing away every chance at redemption for the safety of the familiar.
At almost three hours, which sounds staggeringly long for a movie without a straightforward plot, I’ll admit that LA DOLCE VITA isn’t for your average cinemagoer. It may seem slow or pointless to some, but there’s enough depth and haunting symbolism here to deprive you of sleep for a week. (Yes, it’s one of those movies where you have to THINK!) A short three paragraph review is not going to do this film justice (I’ve completely ignored the brilliant cinematography, as well as Nino Rota’s classic score), but take my word for it; if you enjoy movies that actually have something meaningful to say about life, check this one out. Funny and sexy, tragic yet beautiful, LA DOLCE VITA will stay with you years after you watch it.
Aside from the movie itself, there’s also:
An Introduction by Alexander Payne (5:08): Payne (the director of SIDEWAYS and ELECTION) gives a brief talk about why the movie is so influential and important—from it’s unique structure to the international controversy surrounding its release, which ultimately led to it being senselessly banned by the Catholic Church.
Commentary by Richard Schickel: Schickel is the film critic/historian for TIME Magazine, so he’s no doubt well qualified. His voice is kind of monotone, but he does do a really great job explaining a lot of the subtle intricacies and hidden meanings within the film, as well as it’s importance within cinema history.
Remembering the Sweet Life (11:44): Revealing interviews with Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni about their experiences making the movie and working with Fellini. Apparently, producers originally wanted Paul Newman for the role of Marcello, but thankfully Fellini stuck to his guns because Mastroianni kicks unholy ass in this movie.
Fellini, Roma and Cinecitta (6:38): An interview with an older Fellini as he walks the streets of Rome, talking about how the city has inspired and influenced his films; something more than your traditional “sit-down” interview.
Cinecitta: The House of Fellini (4:11): A video tour of Fellini’s famous movie studio in Rome.
Fellini TV (35:11): A collection of short films by Fellini. A lot of them are very surreal and abstract depictions of pop culture, from puppets and aerobics tapes to a bad 80’s style music video and even a pasta commercial. Stuff like this defined the term “Felliniesque.”
Restoration Demo (7:44): A side-by-side comparison of the original film print and the new restored version they cleaned up for the DVD. Once you see this you’ll definitely appreciate how great the film looks.
On this disc, there’s also an extensive Photo Gallery, Biographies and Filmographies of the cast and crew.
Nino Rota Documentary (57:58): Rota is most famous for scoring THE GODFATHER movies, but his work on this film is just as good in my opinion. Here we have an in-depth documentary chronicling his life and career, including interviews with friends, family and other composers. I’m really glad they included this; it’s not too often composers get the recognition they deserve.
Interview with Anita Ekberg (18:32): A more current interview than the one on Disc 2. Ekberg points out some similarities between her personal life and her character on the film and tells some more funny stories (her and Mastroianni didn’t speak the same language and therefore never really got to know each other, making the intimate scenes rather awkward). Sadly, the years have not been kind to Ekberg; heterosexual film geeks everywhere weep.
1960 Interview with Federico Fellini (4:34): An older interview Fellini did upon the film’s release. Short and sweet.
Marcello Mastroianni at Cannes (2:31): Another snippet of an interview, this time with the star speaking about the movie after it screened at the festival. Nobody looks cooler than Mastroianni, decked out in a James Bond tux and smoking a cigarette while giving his answers.
Discussion with Rinaldo Gelend (7:41): Gelend was one of Fellini’s closest friends, so he offers yet another view on some of LA DOLCE VITA’s themes and significance.
Interview with Tullio Pinelli (5:44): Pinelli is the last surviving screenwriter who worked on the film and he discusses the origins of the script and what they were trying to say about youth and society in the 1960’s.
Donald Sutherland on Fellini (1:43): Sutherland starred in Fellini’s CASANOVA, and here he offers some quick remarks about the director. (“He’s a word in the English dictionary.”)
Man, if only every classic movie was treated this well on DVD…
(If this edition is too expensive for your budget, there’s also a significantly cheaper version which contains the first two discs of this set. But be warned: you won’t get any of the other cool stuff, especially the hot poster of Anita Ekberg to hang on your wall!)