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Koch Lorber presents
La Dolce vita (1960)

"I like lots of things, but there are three things I like most: love, love and love." 
- Sylvia (Anita Ekberg)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: September 26, 2004

Stars: Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimée, Yvonne Furneaux
Director: Federico Fellini

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 02h:53m:44s
Release Date: September 21, 2004
UPC: 741952301295
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ AA-A B-

DVD Review

By the late 1950s, the glory days of Italian Neorealism were, if not quite fading, at least being taken for granted—the inventiveness in storytelling and emphasis on location shooting that were the hallmarks of Rossellini, De Sica and early Visconti were understood as a matter of course, almost more a house style than a particular window onto the truth. And by the time he came to make La Dolce vita, Fellini already had produced some of the best Italian films of the 1950s, including La Strada, Nights of Cabiria, and I Vitelloni. But as good as those movies are, there seems to be a sort of creative and cultural alchemy at work in La Dolce vita, the confluence of the evolution of Italian cinema, the emergence of Fellini’s mature style, and the subject matter at hand that seems at least as relevant some forty years later. It's a pretty extraordinary film, and, among other things, marks the first time that Fellini worked with the actor who would so frequently become the director's on-screen alter ego.

That actor of course is Marcello Mastroianni, who radiates cool as Marcello Rubini, a tabloid journalist with higher literary aspirations; he loves women and he wants to write literature, but for now, he's content playing the field and paying the bills by unearthing items for newspaper columns. The film takes place over a week or so in Rome, in a series of loosely connected episodes; though La Dolce vita is epic in its length, it's most affecting as a character study of Marcello, and as a portrait of the morals (or lack of morals) of the stratified Italian society about which he writes and in which he lives.

The most celebrated sequence, no doubt, is with Marcello and Anita Ekberg, playing Sylvia, a thinly veiled screen version of herself, a Swedish starlet in Italy commanding the attention of the Roman press. The reporters hang on her every word, but the girl just wants to have a good time—to dance, to play, and, most famously of all, to swim with Marcello in the Trevi Fountain. The Ekberg scenes have become the most iconic and remembered ones from this movie, but she's gone before the first hour is up; when she's on screen, though, she's kind of amazing, at once voluptuous and vulgar, beautiful and coarse—from our vantage point, she's sort of like Anna Nicole Smith's patron saint.

The film occupies a singular niche in etymological history, as well, for Marcello's sometime colleague, a relentless tabloid photographer, is called Paparazzo; his name has become the dictionary entry for these vultures with Nikons, swarming about the famous at every opportunity. The culture of the media, in fact, is one of the principal subjects of La Dolce vita, embodied by the film’s main character, who seems to have no small amount of self-loathing when it comes to his work; all too often, though, this bubbles over into anger and ferocity and even occasionally violence against women. Marcello’s issues here would be a mainstay of all of Fellini's movies.

At times, it seems as if there isn’t a beautiful woman in Rome that Marcello doesn't know. His girlfriend, Emma (Yvonne Furneax), wants Marcello to make an honest woman out of her; but he's got other ideas, especially when it comes to Maddalena (Anouk Aimée), a decidedly bad girl—you can see exactly why Marcello has a thing for her. (My goodness, who wouldn't?) The movie is frankly sexual in ways that Hollywood films of the period simply weren’t allowed to be—even all these years later, it’s a little jolting to hear the characters talk so frankly about the pleasures of sex. But that's not to say that Marcello's psychological profile isn't a little infantile; women always seem to be both alluring and dangerous in Fellini, and a scene toward the end of the movie, with Marcello and Emma fighting fiercely, is scarring. (You can see the influence of this scene on, among others, the sequences between Jack Nicholson and Ann-Margret in Carnal Knowledge.)

Catholicism comes in for some healthy ribbing—the movie opens with a helicopter ferreting a statue of Jesus through the Roman skies, allowing Marcello and Paparazzo to visit with some bikini-clad young ladies sunning themselves by rooftop pools; and the media and the Church come together in a bit of wretched excess when the reporters are dispatched to cover two little children claiming to have been visited by the Virgin Mary. More relentless, though, are the sequences of the Roman bourgeoisie living the sweet life of the film's title; with all their cultivated daring and carelessness, they have their allure, certainly, for Marcello and for us, but there’s a huge price to be paid, too, as we discover in a searing sequence in the film's final hour; these people are like Italian incarnations of Tom and Daisy Buchanan. Who cleans up after them?

Part of Fellini's genius, though, is that he allows us to draw our own conclusions, and whatever moral positions you take about his characters are your own, and are likely to reflect your own ethics and experiences. Which means, then, that the film is successful especially in holding the mirror up to nature—que bellissimo! 

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: A strong, steady transfer of a handsome restoration, with inky blacks and a consistent gray scale throughout. Only quibble is the occasional resolution problem; Mastroianni wears striped shirts, and they tend to shine a bit. 

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Italianyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Frequent Fellini collaborator Nino Rota is the star on the soundtrack; it's impossible to imagine Fellini’s movies, or even the Rome of these years, without one of his scores, and this one sounds pretty swell. The 5.1 track is the way to go, if your system is tricked out for it, with a consistently fine balance between dialogue, music and ambient noise.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 33 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
8 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, The Five Obstructions, The Decline of the American Empire, In July, God Is Great, Safe Conduct, The Tree of the Wooden Clogs, Sister My Sister
5 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Richard Schickel
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Amaray Double
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. photo gallery
  2. DVD credits
  3. accompanying booklet, with photographs from the set and an essay by Dennis Bartok
Extras Review: An odd assortment of extras, some of which offer insight, but there's a whole lot of chaff along with the wheat. Filmmaker Alexander Payne (his credits include Election and About Schmidt) provides a video introduction (05m:08s), in which he discusses seeing the film for the first time, as a college student in Spain, where it had been long banned by the Franco regime; Payne says that while other sprawling Italian films of the period (e.g., The Leopard) are more like opera, La Dolce vita has a closer kinship with the modern novel. (This intro also carries a 2005 copyright date, so somebody must be a little ahead of themselves.) Time Magazine film critic Richard Schickel does the commentary, reflecting on Fellini's Neorealist roots and debating whether or not this film is the director's best; he doesn't seem to have any particular insights nor to have done any preparation, and the track is pretty much just his random ruminations. He's reasonably intelligent, and a fan of the film and of the director; but, you know, without getting too self-involved, you could probably say the same about me, or, if you've read this far into this review, about you; that alone doesn't qualify us to do a commentary track on the DVD of a cinematic masterpiece. Given the voluminous and growing amount of Fellini scholarship, and the fact that many of the director's collaborators are still with us, it's hard to believe that a more informed commentator could not have been found.

Anyway, on to the second disc. First up is Fellini TV (35m:12s), a collection of 22 fake television commercials that the director made for Ginger and Fred; the loose connection is that they're concerned with the absurdity of the media in the same way that the portrait of the paparazzi is in this movie, but they may be here merely because they were available. They’re bite-sized bits of absurdity, featuring, for instance, Dante shilling for compasses, so as not to lose his way in the middle of our life. Cinecittà:The Home of F. Fellini (04m:12s) surveys the props, posters and movie memorabilia at Fellini's studio, including the Jesus statue from this film's opening. Remembering the Sweet Life (11m:47s) features two of the movie’s stars reflecting on the production—it consists of a conversation with Ekberg from 1987, and one with Mastroianni from 1990.

The director discusses his beloved studio with a television interviewer in Fellini Roma Cinecittà (06m:37s), and a restoration demonstration (08m:18s) offers both side-by-side and before-and-after comparisons, using three different scenes, to show the heavy lifting that went into making this print look so good. You’ll also find a link to the Koch Lorber website and trailers for eight of their DVD releases; biographies for Fellini, Mastroianni, Ekberg, Aimée and Rota; filmographies for all of them, too, plus one for Furneaux; and a photo gallery, with thirty shots from the set, the most startling of which is the single color snapshot.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Koch Lorber fills in one of the crucial DVD gaps with this handsomely restored and presented two-disc set of one of Fellini’s finest films—you can almost feel the transition in the director as an artist, and in the course of Italian cinema overall. Marcello and Anita frolicking in the Trevi Fountain is probably the signature scene of the movie, but its nearly three-hour running time is full of riches, funny and poignant, sad and frightening. Jump on your Vespa and go grab a copy of this one.


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