Monday, August 29, 2011

La tragica vita

I sat down to watch La Dolce Vita a few night's ago (or, as Nate said, "it's the classic La Dolse Vita). It'd been many years since I'd seen it, during a period where I caught up to every Fellini film (I may still need to see 1 or 2). I remembered a lot of the movie, knew I loved it, but was in no way prepared on how staggering its impact would be on me this time around. Maybe it's because I'm older; maybe I just forgot a similar reaction on last viewing. I mostly couldn't believe I didn't remember Nico was in it, but there she was talking like she sings, just as she sings like she talks.

Marcello's gossip columnist character has quickly found that the empty, glamour chasing life has gotten him nowhere. However, if you pursue your true love – in Marcello’s case literature, the arts - then you’re screwed too. A life of domestic simplicity, taking on a real job and settling down to a routine, like the father you have romanticized, or the girlfriend who romanticizes you – well, that’s a dead end as well. ("This isn’t love; it’s brutalization!" Marcello famously tells his Emma). When even a sweet angel, from heaven by way of Umbria, beckons you across the smallest of chasms to your salvation, a physically easy walk but an emotional leap as vast as the widest Alpine valley, so vast that there’s no hope of crossing, there remains no choice but to refuse. That is the saddest moment of all.

Each set piece – Hollywood-type party, aristocrats cavorting in an ancient villa, moneyed class boringly flaunting their riches - is empty, each group offering their own vacuous existence as an alternative. Nothing is as beautiful as it seems. Anita Ekberg's classic wade through Trevi Fountain, with Fellini painting her as otherworldly, magical, a statue come to life in unbelievably large proportions, turns tawdry and washed out in the light of morning. Night is where the magic happens and where, usually, one can be convinced, falsely, that there is beauty and purpose in life. All hopes fade with the sun.

Everyone is a whore in their own way, selling their soul and selling it badly, never getting what they thought they’d get when the bargain was made. The Chicken Girl, who, like Marcello, came from the sticks to Rome with a dream, will do anything, be abused in anyway, if it helps her reach her goal. Marcello is a true coward and maybe she is too. He makes her into a symbol, covering her with feathers from a ripped pillow. It's his final act of realization; he's at his most cruel when he's attacking his alter image.

The final scene, at the beach with the monstrous fish/ray who's been caught in a net and is likely to fetch a high price, hits hard. Why does the sea creature insist on looking, wide eyed? Doesn’t he know it’s all over for him?

The dead are always the last to know. Aren't we all?

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