"I read your poetry a few years ago when I thought about writing poetry…I like it…This is the art I prefer…the one I think we’ll need tomorrow…clear, precise art without rhetoric that doesn’t lie."- Marcello Rubini
Mixing the sacred with the profane, director Federico Fellini arguably reached the zenith of his career with La Dolce Vita (1960); at once an exaltation/indictment of the urban decay and decadence in Italy’s jaded postwar renaissance. An absorbing amalgam of our sycophantic admiration for all things celebrity, La Dolce Vita made the buxom Anita Ekberg and Italy’s export, Marcello Mastroianni internationally famous; Mastroianni’s career, in particular, taking off like a rocket after the movie’s debut. The film’s original producer, Dino De Laurentis had endeavored to convince Fellini to cast Paul Newman in the lead; in hindsight, an unthinkable prospect; Fellini instead pursuing Mastroianni who had recently had great success in a pair of films: Le Notti Bianche (White Nights, 1957) and Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958).
Fellini reportedly wanted “a very normal face…one without personality.” While this last statement is certainly debatable, Mastroianni, in hindsight, having one of the most iconic visages of the latter 20th century, La Dolce Vita is undeniably blessed to have Mastroianni as its titular hero. There’s a bottled up sexual frustration to the movie’s Marcello Ribini; bored and following his crotch through a series of misadventures taking place over the course of seven sunlit days, but mostly during a series of unfulfilled nights, fettered by Ribini’s inability to follow through with any satisfying sexual liaison. Even his diverting tryst with the affluent cat-like socialite, Maddalena (Anouk Aimée) is more of a transient episode; their meeting in a prostitute’s waterlogged basement apartment, Fellini’s projection of that sinking feeling each experiences at the prospects of finding love with an ‘improper’ stranger. It won’t work. It’s a snore. But ‘what the hell?’…it passes the time.
In many ways, La Dolce Vita is like a dream remembered…or rather, one its protagonists would most like to forget. Even its title, loosely translated as ‘the sweet life’ is ironic; Fellini gradually revealing the imperfectability of any life – affluent or ‘un’. None of these characters have attained personal contentment; each desiring to become something they are not; blindsided by their chase after the specter of those proverbial ‘greener pastures’ on the ‘other side’ of the fence. Ostensibly, the only commonality between tabloid reporter, Marcello Ribini and the present object of his desire, American film siren, Sylvia (Anita Ekberg) is their shared boredom with life; hers a ‘happily obtuse’ counterpoint to his more sullen and desperate longing for escape. The pair aimlessly drifts through their isolated existences, perhaps too painful to more concretely acknowledge. And the grass is hardly greener in Fellini’s dystopian postwar reconstruction of Italy; Fellini, mourning the loss of traditions, faded in the harsh afterglow of the paparazzi’s flashbulbs; stardom reconstituted as celebrity and an urban landscape more than vaguely reminiscent of Hiroshima’s nuclear fallout; monolithic apartment complexes scattered across grassless turf, craggy rubble and stone and dirt roads littered with human debris.
Nowhere is Fellini’s complicated concurrence between the sacrosanct and irreligious more readily on display than in the sequence where two impoverished children claim to have witnessed the Virgin Mary next to a solitary tree in a desolate field; a staged event made even more horrendously false by the sudden appearance of the paparazzi, who erect scaffolding and klieg lights all around this supposedly hallowed spot, photographing family members on a balcony in deliberately posed supplications to the Almighty. The sequence, one of the lengthiest, brings into question Marcello’s own faith – and not only in miracles. It also, magnifies the fracture in his own relationship with live-in, Emma (Yvonne Furneaux); who has attempted suicide several times because she suspects Marcello has been unfaithful to her. Fellini’s own relationship with Catholicism was tricky and frequently the subtext (or even the subject) of his movie explorations. Fellini’s struggle to make sense of it all; to justify the foibles of humanity, set against imagined manifestations and the more concrete symbols of God’s work on earth (a.k.a, the church) leads to several spellbinding vignettes scattered throughout La Dolce Vita. Fellini’s harshest critics have often misconstrued his efforts as being overly critical of his own faith. But in hindsight, it is the mechanics behind these critiques that seem more richly deserving of our attention and, on the whole, deeply probative and satisfying.
As example: Fellini opens La Dolce Vita with an image of a stone-carved Christ, arms outstretched and sailing over the urban topography with cables attached to a helicopter. This celestial illusion garners the attentions of a flock of bikini-clad sunbathers, lounging on a rooftop. “Look, it’s Jesus!” one sun worshipper playfully declares, “Where is he going?” There is another helicopter following close behind ,carrying members of the press, including Marcello, far more interested in getting one of the girl’s phone numbers than in the destination of this graven image. At once, Fellini is undercutting the importance of the Christ figure. But in another consideration, he may be offering a sincere commentary that bemoans the lack of God’s influence on contemporary society; the diminishment of the church’s authority and autonomy quite clear. The age of technology (i.e. the helicopters) commands the direction of salvation itself; a foreshadowing to our present-day dependence – nee worship – of man-made progress. This, perhaps, is Fellini’s way of suggesting how technology will lead mankind astray and to his own eventual ruin.
Later, Fellini stages the first ‘cute meet’ between Sylvia and Marcello high atop the Vatican. Yet again, his focus is twofold – on Sylvia’s naïve beguilement as she ascends the stairs, seemingly closer to heaven, but also, on Marcello, succumbing to the pit of his carnal pursuit even as he makes his way towards this pinnacle of supreme religiosity. To punctuate the point, Sylvia is sheathed in an impossibly fanciful, and cleavage revealing garment designed by Piero Gherardi, reminiscent of a priest’s vestment, complete with wide-brimmed hat and tassel. Having reached the balcony, a strong gust of wind tears the hat from Sylvia’s wavy blonde tresses; in essence, defrocking her in Marcello’s presence. There’s more than a hint of naughty eroticism to this moment, writ large on Marcello’s mien, but alas, to remain unfulfilled as Fellini moves us from the dawn into Rome’s bustling nightlife.
Fellini juxtaposition of this mostly barren contemporary landscape gives way to flashes of that ‘old world’ Rome made full and luscious in movies like Roman Holiday (1953) and Three Coins in A Fountain (1954). But Fellini’s version of the Via Veneto is actually a set built on the back lot at Cinecittà Studios, evoking a more regal era, presently distilled by a sort of embalmed glamour as the glitterati meet and frolic. The illusion is uncanny; Anita Ekberg being spun around the dance floor of an outdoor nightclub like an airborne top-heavy albatross by the enigmatic and curly haired, Frankie Stout (Alain Dijon). Here is an image as indelible and as devastating as the much touted and perennially revived ‘fountain sequence’; Ekberg playing to Fellini’s vacuous image of the American movie star - more symbol than substance, and, onto which every man can – and usually does – project his own masochistic fantasies. Marcello Ribini’s are hardly cerebral; although he harbors a particularly farfetched opinion of this glamor gal as all things to every man – whatever his taste or season. “You are the first woman on the first day of creation. You are mother, sister, lover, friend, angel, devil, earth, home,” Marcello tells Sylvia as they slink together in the Trevi Fountain. But these are dreamlike properties Sylvia does not possess. In fact, they can only be seen through the eyes of a daydreamer like Marcello, whose passion impugned is rechanneled into platitudes bestowed on an unworthy of such praise.
It’s Marcello’s misfortune, in fact, that he cannot work up even the basest affections for Emma who has grown possessive and unyielding in their absence. Marcello is, in fact, very cruel to Emma. “A man who agrees to live like this is a finished man,” he tells her, “He's nothing but a worm! I don't believe in your aggressive, sticky, maternal love! I don't want it! I have no use for it! This isn't love! It's brutalization!” Alas, Marcello is too caught up in the emptiness of the physical to appreciate the inner strength of sentiment or – more to the point – the content of a real woman’s character. His deification of the external represents Fellini’s own partial condemnation of Hollywood and its shift away from genuine talent to attractive pin-ups who are little more – if anything – than what they first appear.
Of course, Marcello isn’t much more clairvoyant at spotting the true merit in men either. He placates his own father (Annibale Ninchi) with an air of self-pity for this aged bon vivant; amusing, but past his prime, and he chooses to embrace the affluent Steiner (Alain Cuny) as his contemporary instead. Once again, it’s through Marcello’s inability to connect with even his own past, exemplified by his total lack of contact with the folks back home, and presently, his estrangement from this man who gave him life, that Fellini offers a more painful critique of the disconnect between the older and younger generations; the solidness of tradition forsaken for a fast and urbane materialism, promising so much, but proven equally as unfulfilling. Marcello is, therefore, still searching for his place in the world, believing it will be discovered somewhere higher up the proverbial ‘food chain’ of life.
Marcello’s counterbalance in La Dolce Vita is Steiner; an affluent Jewish industrialist with an insular sycophantic following of pseudo-intellectuals; poets, artists, self-proclaimed prophets and lazy-headed drifters. To Marcello, Steiner has everything he would hope for himself; money, position, respect. Alas, this too is mere illusion, Steiner pointing out to Marcello this unattractive artificiality in a startlingly predictive moment. “Don't be like me,” Steiner quietly implores, “Salvation doesn't lie within four walls. I'm too serious to be a dilettante and too much a dabbler to be a professional. Even the most miserable life is better than a sheltered existence in an organized society where everything is calculated and perfected.”
Two underlying currents of dissension run through La Dolce Vita, the screenplay by Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli and Brunello Rondi (with contributions made by an un-credited Pier Paolo Pasolini) focusing on the sterility of contemporary society – all plasticized flashiness and bounce, but no nub beyond its own navel-gazing, and the homogenized ennui its wanderers have with life in general. Fellini’s predictions of an imploding culture, having sacrificed its principles and faith for nothing better than a mindless weekend getaway to the Riviera, rings more ominously true with each passing year. Fellini was, in fact, heavily criticized for this unflinching critique, remaining unapologetic of his views. But for some time thereafter, La Dolce Vita was to endure as his most controversial and financially successful movie; the latter a source of contention, as Fellini had signed away all rights to a percentage of the profits in trade to secure the necessary funds for his recreation of the Via Veneto on Cinecittà’s back lot.
Yet, Fellini was hardly contemptuous of the city that had given birth to his fertile imagination and renown to his reputation as a film-maker. He once explained his affinity for Rome – unquestionably, as much a character in La Dolce Vita as any of flesh and blood – thus; like an extension of his own apartment, the sloppy way its inhabitants meandered to and fro with an entitled familiarity, from the crowded piazzas to the equally congested streets and down the tight little alleys and byways. Viewed in this light, La Dolce Vita is very much a celebration of Rome, Fellini bringing an intimacy to these fantastic proceedings; some, even more remarkably, borrowed from life. The famed moonlit dip in the Trevi Fountain, as example, (shot under frigid conditions in the middle of February no less) was excised from an incident involving Anita Ekberg. A real life ex-Miss Sweden and professional model, she had cut her foot during a photo shoot for Pierluigi Praturlon, electing to wash the wound in the fountain’s waters. One thing led to another and before Pierluigi realized it, Ekberg had waded into the fountain. In La Dolce Vita, Fellini uses the Trevi Fountain to extraordinary effect: to punctuate a moment of anticipated consummation suddenly denied; the turning off of the waters, symbolic of a more deep-seeded impotence that plagues our disillusioned hero for the rest of the movie.
La Dolce Vita begins with a lengthy prologue; a helicopter carrying the stone Christ past the ancient Roman aqueducts, accompanied by a second copter transporting Marcello Rubini and other members of the paparazzi en route to cover the story. Momentarily sidetracked by a gaggle of rooftop sunbathers, Marcello is unsuccessful at getting any of their phone numbers, the copter turning in pursuit of the statue to Saint Peter's. We shift focus to a posh nightclub, Marcello casually hooking up with the affluent, Maddalena; a spoiled, bored and morally bankrupt gadabout who is on a constant quest for ‘new sensations’ as she puts it, of which Marcello just happens to be the latest. Unlike Marcello, who prefers the autonomy of a big city he can effective disappear in, Maddalena would much prefer anyplace to Rome. Picking up Ninni (Adriana Moneta) a prostitute who needs a lift back to her apartment, the pair is invited into Ninni’s basement for a cup of coffee. Fellini mixes humor with pathos here; Ninni’s waterlogged digs also affording him an opportunity to infuse a bit of social commentary about the squalid living conditions in these new housing projects. Maddalena wastes no time seduce Marcello. It doesn’t take much. But even they can both see the spark in their illicit flagrante delicto has fizzled. They go through the mechanics of having sex, but their hearts are not in it.
Returning to his apartment at the break of dawn, Marcello discovers his fiancée, Emma has attempted suicide by swallowing a whole bottle of pills. It isn’t the first time either. At once outraged, forlorn and panicky, Marcello rushes Emma to the hospital; perhaps most concerned over how her death might cast a pall on his own reputation. From this low-key of ‘almost’ tragedies, Fellini segues into La Dolce Vita’s most stylish vignette: the arrival of American film star, Sylvia at Ciampino Airport; the voluminous uber-fairytale princess of the movies inundated by a barrage of flashbulbs and obtuse questions from the paparazzi. Any sound bite will do. Marcello telephones Emma from the hotel press conference, accused of being alone with Sylvia when, in fact, there are more than fifty reporters in the suite, each salivating for a headline. Sylvia’s boyfriend, Robert (Lex Barker) arrives late to these proceedings - his usual inebriated self; Marcello diffusing the tension in the air by suggesting Sylvia be taken on a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica.
Dressed in a black frock reminiscent of a priest’s sacramental vestments, Sylvia ascends the steep winding staircase to the top of the dome, pursued by various members of the paparazzi, whom she tires out: all except Marcello, although even he is winded as he rejoins Sylvia on the balcony overlooking Vatican square. A strong gust of wind tears Sylvia’s hat off; she and Marcello wistfully staring at one another for a long moment. Fellini cuts to the evening: the Baths of Caracalla, then an outdoor nightclub. The arrival of Sylvia in a stunning cleavage-revealing gown, its silken entrails flaring about as she dances, ignites the room in an incendiary and unbridled display of human sexuality; the tenor elevated to near orgy status by the arrival of an old flame, Frankie Stout; momentarily causing Marcello to feel like a cast off. Robert is seemingly disinterested in Sylvia’s flagrant display, too intoxicated to care but not nearly drunk enough to hold his tongue; his glib admonishment, enough to wound Sylvia’s feelings. She takes off in a huff and Marcello promises to bring her back.
Alas, the night has other plans for them; Marcello pursuing Sylvia as she explores the deserted alleyways, taking pity on a poor white kitten she coddles and caresses in a way Marcello would so obviously prefer to be held. Encouraging Marcello to find some milk for the poor orphaned cat, Sylvia disappears into the night; Marcello discovering her wading into the Trevi Fountain, outwardly under an otherworldly power; hearing fantastic music inside her own head. Marcello is hypnotized by Sylvia. She encourages him and he follows her into the pool, presumably with the anticipation of some fantastic overture to love reciprocated at long last. For the briefest of moments, this appears to be Sylvia’s modus operandi. She gazes adoringly at Marcello and reaches down to sprinkle a few beads of water atop his head. Regrettably, with the first glints of rising sun the mood between them is broken. Marcello drives Sylvia back to her hotel. Robert, who has been waiting for her return all night, is in a foul temper and wallops Sylvia across the cheek as several paparazzi snap the couple’s picture.
Fellini shifts focus with his next vignette, to the objectives of Marcello’s life; or rather, his impossible daydream – to be a man like his mentor, Steiner. The uber-rich, ultra-sophisticated Steiner appears to have it all; money, family, and a fabulous atelier populated by fashionable friends; truly the crème de la crème of society. Steiner and Marcello meet inside a local church, Steiner showing off his air of culture by playing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue on the pipe organ, and later, by sharing his prized book of ancient Sanskrit. Marcello’s infatuation with Steiner is fairly transparent and Steiner willingly invites Marcello and Emma to his home for a weekend party. Later that same afternoon, Marcello and Emma, along with Marcello’s photog/friend, Paparazzo (Walter Santesso) make their pilgrimage to an abandoned field on the outskirts of Rome to cover a story about two ghetto children having observed the sacred Madonna.
Despite protestations from the Catholic Church, the reported sighting has garnered a large crowd of devotees. The arrival of the paparazzi transforms the unassuming field into a garishly orchestrated three-ring circus. Regrettably, it all comes to not, the candlelight vigil planned as the piece de resistance thwarted by Mother Nature. An impromptu thunderstorm sends everyone scattering, the worshipers turning rabid as they tear at the branches of a withered tree, claimed to have sheltered the Virgin Mary. In the same instance, Emma solemnly offers a prayer to be given exclusive possession of Marcello's heart. At the break of dawn it is discovered a sick child who was brought to the site by his frantic mother to be healed, has been trampled to death in the hullabaloo.
Fellini now moves us into what is perhaps La Dolce Vita’s most sobering vignette: Steiner’s house party – a glittering assemblage of pseudo-intellectuals who, although present in the same room, seem a disjointed bunch at best: one recites poetry, another strums a guitar; the bandying about of philosophical ideas while listening to the banal sounds of nature on a tape recorder more fraught with wasteful self-indulgence than anything else. Fellini sets us up into believing Marcello and Emma are the outsiders, when it is actually Steiner who is out of place among these fair-weather friends. Isolated on a balcony, Marcello sincerely compliments Steiner on a perfect evening. But Steiner is strangely despondent. Far from being contented, he philosophizes about the need for love in the world and genuinely fears the many tomorrows his children will have to face as adults.
Spurred to make a sincere stab at his own greatness, Marcello spends the next afternoon toiling on the first draft of his novel, retreating to a lonely seaside restaurant to be at one with his thoughts. Perhaps, left to his own accord he can free his mind. It is not to be as the restaurant’s pubescent waitress, Paola (Valeria Ciangottini) plays Perez Prado's infectious cha-cha on the jukebox while humming its tune. At first, Marcello is perturbed with the girl, but softens after taking a more serious look at her. She reminds him of an angel in the Umbrian paintings, and their conversation takes on the flavoring of a paternal figure administering kindly advice to the novice. She is innocent in the ways of the world and quite amused by Marcello’s relaxed familiarity. Returning to Rome without having written a word, Marcello is informed by Paparazzo his father has come to town. Marcello is indeed surprised to see his father in the flesh. After all, he has not been home, written or even called his parents in quite some time.
Nevertheless, Ribini Sr. is delighted to see his son, enjoying a good meal and chatting about his life and women. Marcello and Paparazzo take his father to the Cha-Cha-Cha Club. There, Marcello introduces him to Fanny (Magali Noël); an aged chorine and a former flame whose photo Marcello promised to get in the paper. It never happened, and Fanny is still mildly bitter. Her indignation abates, however, and she decides to show Marcello and his father a good time. Together with Paparazzo and two other dancers, everyone returns to Fanny’s flat. Marcello is uncomfortable with this suggestion and decides to leave when they get to their destination. Regrettably, the night is ruined for Marcello too when his father appears to have suffered a minor heart attack in Fanny’s company. Marcello implores him to see a doctor and stay in Rome. Ill and ailing, Ribini Sr. resists his son’s compassion and elects instead to take the first train home. The big city has worn him out. It’s no use. Marcello and his father will never be close.
Fellini’s final acts in La Dolce Vita ante up both the perversity and desperation of our protagonist; Marcello attending a house party at the behest of Jane (Audrey McDonald), an American heiress who is frivolous. The remote castle at Bassano di Sutri outside Rome is owned by Jane’s aristocratic, though priggish fiancée. But the gathering is hardly resplendent; rather, decadent and mildly disturbing for its implied surrender to amorality. Nevertheless, Marcello is surprised to see Maddalena there. She lures and isolates him in a room, hurrying to another to test its echo chamber as she whispers a proposal of marriage. Marcello hesitates; only replying that he loves her. In the meantime, Maddalena is approached by another party guest (Romolo Giordani) who has no quam about seducing her. She acquiesces and Marcello begrudgingly rejoins the group, spending the night with Jane instead. Burnt out, the deflated revelers trundle up the front walk toward the castle, met by its proprietress on her way to church.
Sometime later, Marcello and Emma are driving home along an isolated road when she makes her final play for him. Marcello’s penultimate refusal, even to entertain the prospect, causes Emma to pressure he stop the car immediately. She demands to know the reason why Marcello does not love her as much as she so obviously, emphatically, and greedily desires him. Marcello is frustrated and fed up. He pulls over, abandoning Emma on the open road and in the dead of night, only to sheepishly return early the next dawn and discover her not too far from where he left her. Her abject surrender, as she slinks back into his car without a word is disheartening at best; the two, predictably, winding up in bed a short while later. Their peaceful slumber is intruded on by a telephone call; Marcello informed Steiner has murdered his two children and committed suicide. Waiting for Steiner’s wife (Renée Longarini) to return home, Marcello breaks the horrific news, shielding her from the swarm of ravenous reporters.
Time passes: quite a lot of it, apparently. For when next we meet Marcello, his jet black mane has turned to greyish chalk. He encourages a group of drunken partygoers to break into a Fregene beach house owned by a man named Riccardo (Riccardo Garrone); presumably, a friend. To inaugurate her recent divorce from Riccardo, Nadia (Nadia Gray) performs a striptease; Marcello provoking the revelers into an orgy. Alas, in all their intoxication, this scene degenerates into an apathetic farce; Marcello endeavoring to infuse some mania or eroticism – or both - into the moment by tearing open feather-down pillows and riding a hunched over young woman like a pony around the room. Amidst this chaos, Riccardo unexpectedly arrives, disgusted by what he sees and angrily ordering the partiers to leave at once. Instead, their drunken revelry continues on the beach, the old fools stumbling upon a stingray-like creature caught in a fisherman’s net.
These final moments are perplexing and reek of the pall of death, or rather, a queer finality to the pursuit of that illusive ‘sweet life’ Marcello has squandered his entire youth on without success. The perplexity of these moments arises from the return of Paola. She has not aged a bit since her first encounter with Marcello – despite the fact he has -considerably - in the interim. She beckons from across an estuary, her words drowned out by the raging surf. Marcello signals his inability to understand her (Fellini offering an obvious double entendre here) and Paola rather awkwardly waves goodbye as Marcello returns to the carousers instead. Fellini holds tight and long on the final close-up, an inscrutable smile creeping across Paola’s cheeks. Is she pleased to have been briefly reunited with this gentle man who once bestowed compliments upon her? Or is she grieving the loss of the man she naively thought he was, or hoped he might live up to satisfy her memories? We’re never entirely certain and perhaps this is precisely Fellini’s point; that Marcello Ribini is a creature of misguided habits; a man incapable of finding love even when it is clearly presented as a viable alternative for the taking.
La Dolce Vita is a profound and thoroughly bittersweet fable; Fellini’s defiance of the then popularized neorealist movement in Italian film-making readily apparent. It’s also the story of a fantastically flawed man, inadvertently sacrificing his own everlasting happiness to temporary diversions of every shape and kind. Marcello Mastroianni carves an indelible niche as the film’s non-existentialist surveyor of life. Unable to commit to anything or anyone for very long, Mastroianni’s alter ego is an affront to God’s destiny for man; like Steiner – a dabbler without a purpose, doomed to perpetual dissatisfaction without ever understanding the fundamental flaw in his character that prevents him from moving forward. In place of this quest for absolution and fulfillment, Fellini gives us a dark and demoralizing little adventure, one from which there is no escape or even a shred of redemption for our tragic hero.
The women in Fellini’s chef d'oeuvre remain compelling codicils to this central chase; the purposeless Sylvia, jaded Maddelena, wounded Emma, and, innocent Paola; each offering Marcello momentary escapisms. It is Marcello’s inability to choose for himself – not just wisely – but essentially; his dalliances with all eventually depriving him from being worthy of any – that ultimately defeats the purpose of his life’s journey. All of Fellini's characters are unstable people; fractured individuals plagued by a self-destructive quality. This kinetically draws them nearer to each other for the briefest of flirtations. But it inevitably tears them apart. In the final analysis, La Dolce Vita is a tantalizing chronicle, not so much for the superficialities it brings to light, but for the sobering way it tempts providence by undoing its characters at their core. Fellini does not give us archetypes, per say. Rather, he illustrates the ease with which anyone may fall into any number of such ‘categories’ by their own design; the tail wagging the dog, as it were; people becoming slaves to their vices after all of their virtues have been deliberately discarded.
Criterion Home Entertainment debuts La Dolce Vita in a brand new and rather extensive 4K digital restoration conducted by Cineteca Di Bologna - Laboratorio L'Immagine Ritrovata in collaboration with The Film Foundation. This image harvest is derived from original camera negatives shot in Totalscope by cinematographer extraordinaire, Otello Martelli, with a few brief exceptions replaced by lavender prints; necessary, due to mold damage and other age-related rot. The image is consistently thick with good solid grain and contrast that yields super rich black levels. The ‘wow!’ factor is in evidence in virtually every razor-sharp frame; the visuals looking extremely film-like and taking a quantum leap forward in 1080p; which is saying a great deal considering the magnificence on display on the old Koch Lorber DVD. But there’s no comparison here. Criterion’s Blu-ray blows everything else out of the water. So, prepare to be astonished. This is an impressive reference quality disc, sure to provide decades of viewing pleasure.
Criterion’s Blu-ray also advances in its PCM monaural soundtrack, Nino Rota’s score in particular sounding genuinely marvelous. Criterion, of course, gives us optional English subtitles (Thank heaven! My Italian’s a little rusty.) using a less obtrusive white font (Koch Lorber’s was a disastrously distracting yellow). Criterion pads out the extras with new interviews from assistant director, Lina Wertmüller, film scholar, David Forgacs and Italian journalist, Antonello Sarno. Cumulatively, they add up to just under fifty minutes of content, immeasurably fleshed out by a 1965 interview conducted by NBC’s Irving R. Levine, showcasing an ebullient Fellini (30 min.) who runs the gamut of topics, from affectionately waxing about his own work, to singing the praises of other filmmakers and finally, speaking to his own ideals for making movies. Another vintage interview with Marcello Mastroianni (almost 50 min.) follows. There’s also ‘Felliniana’: a curious presentation of the private collection of film buff, Don Young, plus an all too brief, but densely packed visual essay ‘The Eye and the Beholder’ by filmmaker, kogonada; deconstructing Fellini’s use of the mobile camera; plus, liner notes by critic, Gary Giddins. Bottom line: very highly recommended! A real ‘must have’ for this pending holiday season!
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)