It’s the story of an era a bit further back than our own. The Italian master-director Fellini had launched his landmark film in 1960. It was the time when Italian films were a worldwide rage and with “La Dolce Vita”, an entire generation was charmed.
Few ever have the opportunity of creating a new word while Fellini with the release of his film added not one but three words to the English Dictionary! The first is the well-known “paparazzi” derived from the name of a desperate stalker-photographer named Paparazzo in the film; the second was “fellinisque” which came to be defined as the quality of the fantastical and the surreal and of course the immortalized phrase of, “La Dolce Vita” that Fellini translated as “the sweetness of life” but probably meant more- a longing for “the sweetness of life”, the never-ending search for it, the despair at not having arrived at it….”La Dolce Vita” is this..
It is about a “la dolce vita” that the protagonist in the heyday of his decadent hedonism never finds. Every night Marcello, the protagonist, a gossip columnist, always in search of a new sensation, somnambulances through aristocratic circles, indulging with other pleasure-mongers as the promise of “La dolce vita” haunts him. In the morning however, they lay shattered as he is transported back to drudgery.
What will bring Marcello the proverbial “sweetness of life”? “God” could not be the answer in his post-modern world of blasphemy. Would it be another beautiful woman in every one of whom he sees an antidote to his restlessness? Or would it be his rebellion against the glitz and pursuing his serious idealistic aspirations of writing a book? Perplexing “la dolce vita”….
Yet the entire length of the film is a stunning coverage of just this; his struggle against his own true pursuit of “la dolce vita”. He chases rich aristocrats and starlets; they dazzle him and he lets himself be susceptible to their spell only to have them eluding him the next morning. Yet by his side is his forlorn lover yearning for him. He is impassioned by his friend’s idealistic feats yet cannot take the leap into what he truly desires to do. In an argument he tells her, “I don’t believe in your aggressive, clinging, maternal love. It’s not love it’s suffocation! I want more!” Having found out his lover’s suicide attempt he melts down in utter adulation and yet after a minute, phones his previous night’s sexual escapade- a rich heiress troubled by a boundless ennui, to be solved only by making love; his call however is not returned. He becomes madly infatuated with a Hollywood starlet and they share a serenely passionate moment beneath the Trevi fountain; beneath the overflowing moonlight as in his fantasy, standing in flesh and blood, water on his forehead as if anointing him in the world of “la dolce vita”, the night transmutes into the morning light and the paparazzi spots them off-guard! Another fantasy shattered. The film draws to an end as he is seen walking inebriated with his fellow party-goers. Nocturnal escapades, high-flying ambitions, galvanizing sex and opulent parties; it’s a sea of emptiness that he keeps sailing along with a bohemian lust for a “somewhere beyond the blue”. Elusive “la dolce vita”….sounds a little like real life, doesn’t it?
As the night was metamorphosing into the first sunlight, the film drew to a close, awakening within me a moment of epiphany! Are we all not a little bit of Marcello too? Selfish, victimized and in chase for something remote as if summoned to by eternity? What constitutes “la dolce vita”? For Marcello it was a thing beyond him. For the rich heiress, it was probably an end to her boredom. For Marcello’s lover, it was Marcello himself and the truth is we are all wandering about in the illusion of this. The is best depicted when led astray by the report of two children who had apparently spotted Mother Mary, the people run into frenzy. The next morning two children are found dead as a result of the ensuing stampede…..so much for the ravenousness… the greed for “la dolce vita.”
Yet my moment of epiphany revealed unto me, if only Marcello and each one of us had looked somewhere else, probably near, no inside himself; a little deeper, into the depths of his being, perhaps the happiness would not been as elusive. Maybe all that “la dolce vita” was simply inside us. Maybe if we all chose to stop and listen to our inner voice, moved to fulfill the core desires, stayed only in the present, and became grateful about the present, maybe the sweetness would flow through a little more seamlessly….paradoxical “la dolce vita”.