Federico Fellini in his previous efforts was known for his portrayals of post-war Italy and the plight of the downtrodden. With La Dolce Vita he took a turn with his career and made something just as revelatory about the world we live in.
La Dolce Vita features a journalist, Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni), who has no real solid footing on any place in life. He wants to be a serious intellectual like his friend Steiner, but instead spends his time with the other riff-raff paparazzo who just want a snap of the latest matinee idol. He pines after American actress/ sex symbol Sylvia (Anita Ekberg) picturing her to be his salvation - among many of the other women in his life. Like Tati’s film the protagonists see something in the blonde women they chase after but are forever out of reach.
Fellini’s primary tool of empathy is Marcello’s lack of direction in life. The audience can identify with it quite easily in today’s world and feel bonded to Marcello’s story because of it. However at the end of the film nothing has changed. Marcello stares contemplatively at the beached fish stuck in a world it doesn’t belong; he recognizes it as himself but cannot manage to pull away from his life of drinking, drugs and debauchery. Not long after he sees the teenage girl from the diner and waves to her. She is a symbol of his past attempting to meld with this current life, but he cannot remember her. She says something back but he strains to hear her and after giving up is pulled away by one of his fellow partygoers from the night before.
La Dolce Vita was innovative in that instead of making a three hour film it was split into several threads featuring Marcello at night and day. By cutting the film into seven smaller portions and other side stories the film never dawdles and focuses its intensity with a laser-guided scope. Each of the seven segments produces a different look at society and life. The first evening Marcello sleeps with his mistress (Anouk Aimee) at the home of a prostitute to only later find his girlfriend unconscious from an overdose of pills at home. Busy professing his love for his girlfriend he manages to sneak in a call to his mistress. The commercialization of “The Miracle” paired mass crowds of faithful Catholics hoping to witness the Madonna with the aftermath of the death of a sick child whose mother had brought him to be healed. In using these two scenes to mirror Marcello’s actual intentions the stated effect is more pronounced.
La Dolce Vita is primarily a film about shattering preconceived notions of people and is exhibited many times during the film. His good friend and intellectualist Steiner (Alain Cuny) introduces Marcello to a luxuriant lifestyle that he is initially attracted to, but the gleam of that disappears when tragedy strikes. His father’s visit doesn't reflect the reinforced image Marcello had of his father and of the life he led. Entirely disillusioned, Marcello is at the point where he has no idea what kind of life he is actually supposed to lead. In keeping the strict focus on these seven stories La Dolce Vita strives to not only be a critique of Marcello, but society as a whole in a new age world.