se tu me vuole bene marcello?

I never watch movies more than once really. But La Dolce Vita I must have seen at least four times. And every time, I see something more wonderful in it.

This time, watching it with Dominic, I was mesmerized by Mastroioni’s acting. Such a meltingly human performance.

There is a scene buried in the middle of the 3+ hours where he bumps into his father in a cafe in Rome. His Dad is in from the countryside and is obviously taken with his son’s glittering social life. Marcello takes him to a club and they meet a French dancing girl. Marcello’s father buys them all champagne and clearly is intoxicated both by the girl and the flashbacks to his youth. Drunk they decide to head back to the girl’s house for spaghetti. The father goes in the car with Fanny and Marcello follows after with the others.

However, Marcello takes a long route and when he arrives tells the others to make his excuses to his father. But before he can leave Fanny rushes out distraught. Marcello’s father has taken a turn and she is frantic with worry. Marcello goes to see his father and enters the room alone.
His father barely looks at him. Hurries away to catch the early train back to the country and his wife. Marcello urges him to stay but the father has already booked a taxi and leaves.

There are so many magnetic scenes in La Dolce Vita but this one has always stuck in my mind. I’m always moved by father-son reunions in movies – but watching this scene this time round I was aware of the massively subtle complexity of it.

There’s the father’s intoxication with the glittering memories of his youth and his slightly vampiric excitement over Marcello’s friends. There’s Marcello’s fond excitement when his father gets drunk and flirts with Fanny. But most moving and upsetting is that moment – which I’d always missed before – when Marcello is deliberately slow catching up with Fanny and his Father. Implicit in that is the idea that he thinks his dad is going to have sex with Fanny and he wants to give him space.

However, when he enters that room and the father is silent and won’t look at him then the tawdriness of that supposition – that he was effectively being a pimp so his dad could cheat on his mum – becomes awful. Both he and the father are implicated in that half hour that the dad spent alone with the artless Fanny. It casts a shameful shadow over Marcello’s life which extends right to the end in that ugly, violent party by the beach.

Such a brilliant movie. And with the most mysterious, beautiful and uplifting final image…


  1. robin

    December 4, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    Nicely observed, A.

    This film gets me every time – I wonder if it’s possible to wear out a DVD…

  2. Daniel Murray

    December 6, 2008 at 5:05 am

    La Dolce Vita is one of the saddest films that I’ve ever seen. Macello M’s part is that of a young man who is absolutely bankrupt — emotionally and soul-ful-ly. He’s become like the old whore in a young man’s body: barren with his intimate dealings — due to a lack of anything past superficial touchings.

    It’s like a horror film — in many ways. And, like in a Hitchcock film, the lead player is very attractive…yet…oddly…destined to be a victim. Marcello Mastroianni is ideal as the victim in this film. And, Federico Fellini sees him as that: a victim.

  3. alistair

    December 6, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    True. I hadn’t really pegged it as a sad film – but I guess you’re right. MM is bankrupt. But there is hope in his sensitivities.
    His collapse after Steiner’s death and his turmoil throughout the movie shows that he is sensitivity to his bankruptcy.
    I guess that’s why I find the end so enchanting. The freshness of the girl, smiling, nodding and the clownish smile of the drunk Marcello in response. Not hearing what she has to say, but knowing that she is the future.
    There’s no films with that sort of moral ambiguity and scope made any more… Or maybe I haven’t seen them.

  4. Daniel Murray

    December 21, 2008 at 5:22 am

    This film is one of man reaching a midlife crisis — big time. It’s like the 2nd wounding in life: the first being in the teen years and the second being at the midlife point. Some might call it the time of the double or the shadow.

    Either way, he’s lost his way. We all do — at certain times in our journey. I think that’s why this is such a classic film. For no matter how successful or full Marcello’s life is…he’s lost his way. What once mattered to him does not matter any more. La Dolce Vita could not have been more apropos as a title either.

    This isn’t a role for a young man — a man in his 20s or early 30s. It’s really a role for a man who has gone past that.

    Dante talks about the Dark Wood: when the road is truly lost. That’s what this film is about — getting lost.

    It’s an utterly masterful and beautiful film. However, the emptiness that Fellini is addressing here is powerfully intense. Whether male or female, we all come to this point in life — at some juncture.

    Hopefully, we will have a few dear and near to help us at this time. (Wise friends at this point are much-desired.)

    That said, it is also about a lack of value in life. Fellini must’ve been going through a really intense time to have wanted to show it so clearly in this film. He was definitely on a mission with this film — no doubt about it.

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