La Dolce Vita (1960) (aka The Sweet Life)
Federico Fellini

“You are the first woman on the first day of creation. You are mother, sister, lover, friend, angel, devil, earth, home”



Whenever there is a discussion on Fellini’s ultimate masterpiece, the inevitable finalists are 8½ (1963) and La Dolce Vita (1960). Critics are thoroughly polarized on the former with Joseph Bennett (Kenyon Review) even calling it “The worst film made by a major Italian film director”! As for La Dolce Vita, it receives a much warmer response and is hailed as Fellini’s magnum opus almost unanimously. Along with Akira Kurosawa’s phenomenal Yojimbo (1961), it had become the zeitgeist of the 60’s as far as foreign films were considered.

La Dolce Vita takes us through the life of Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni) as a string of seven episodes, all of which start late in the evening and end at dawn the next day. Marcello encounters various situations and people including a one-night stand with lover Maddalena (Anouk Aimée), a fraud congregation revolving around a holy vision, a tantalizing night with an actress Sylvia (Anita Ekberg), a night out with his almost-alien father, a amateurishly done orgy, his relationship with his role model friend Steiner and a high-class party where he is totally out of place yet nobody cares. There is also a brief meeting with a pretty young girl at a beach resort who appears to be the only unsullied entity in the whole film.

Through his various encounters, Marcelo becomes increasingly aware of the vacuous style of his life and the meaninglessness of his existence. He knows he is straddling two worlds – one of reality which, his heart knows is moral, and another raised by his fantasies built around the fake lives of celebrities. Yet, he willingly prefers the latter and opts not to “cross the stream”, unlike Zampano of La Strada (1954) who turns contrite for his brutality. Much credit must go for Mastroianni for handling such a superficial yet complex character with such care. He takes the centre stage in some scenes and sidelines himself in others, all at the right places.

For followers of Fellini, La Dolce Vita may come as quite a big surprise. First off, it does have elements of neo-realism in it. Years after being panned for “betraying his neo-realistic roots”, Fellini came back with this film that included both his fantastic imagery and realistic backdrop. Also, more importantly, the film is devoid of the “Fellini magic” and is wrapped up in an atmosphere of depression and hopelessness, uncharacteristic of Fellini. Additionally, the themes handled in the film are closer in spirit to the works of Michelangelo Antonioni, especially Blowup (1966) and L’Avventura (1960), both of which trace the empty lives of humans in modern times. Considering these anomalies, it is remarkable to note that this quantum leap for Fellini has come immediately after the hugely successful The Nights of Cabiria (1957).

Facts apart, La Dolce Vita till date remains one of the most memorable cinematic journeys ever. The opening sequence, the Jesus statue being flown by a helicopter over the modern day Rome, can make the top five opening sequences any day (8½ can make it too!). The classic scene at the Fontana di Trevi made Anita Ekberg a craze around the world. Not to mention the irritating yet hilarious paparazzi who made it into the big screen for the first time. They not only provided a new word for the language, but also changed the perception of the public about the private lives of the celebrities.

Though a small section of viewers may find the three hour runtime of the film too long, the deluge of restless happenings and the episodic fashion of events keep one hooked irrespective of the age in which one watches the film. La Dolce Vita may not be a good starting point to get acquainted with the works of Fellini, but is an extremely rewarding film in its own right, especially if you are looking for entertainment as well as rumination.

Metropolis (1927)
Fritz Lang

“There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator.”



When cinema was in its infancy during the teens and the twenties, many pioneers sought to provide it a definite shape and even assemble various tools and benchmarks for the decades of filmmakers to come. This led to the formation of various cinematic and narrative techniques, characteristic to their country of origin, which were later used by tens of directors from that country. One such trait, expressionism, was extensively used by the filmmakers of Germany such as F. W. Murnau and Fritz Lang. The latter’s magnum opus, Metropolis (1927), is a grand marriage of the expressionist method and unimaginably high ambitions for its time.

Joh Fredersen is a huge industrialist and the owner of the high-tech city of Metropolis. The workers of Metropolis are overworked and are exploited in exchange for small amounts of wages. This pains Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), the son of Fredersen who seeks to get justice for the workers from his father. The workers are on the verge of a revolution, but are held back by the hopes given by Maria (Brigitte Helm). Knowing this, Fredersen plans to use the evil genius of the city, Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), and build a humanoid that resembles Maria in order to disorient the workers. However, Rotwang has his own plans and decides to double-cross Fredersen , in the process endangering everyone’s life.

To get an idea of the film’s influence on cinema it is enough to consider that it was the pioneer of the Sci-Fi genre – the one that Hollywood has never grown tired of. Its ideas of science and future have tricked down to every science fiction film made after it – both great and disastrous. Right from the struggle to create a whole new world (Minority Report, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow etc.) to the debate of humanity versus artificiality (Blade Runner, A. I. etc.), the impact of the film is omnipresent in the genre. The film’s special effects, needless to mention, were groundbreaking for their time (The Tower of Babel sequence retains its potency to amaze).

Going hand in hand with expressionism, the film is full of black and white characters and only aids the film’s heightened take on fantasy. Its consistent message of compassion for the working class may be a tad tasteless for viewers of today who do not expect any propaganda from the medium. However, this was, perhaps, required for Lang to drive home the point of the film which would otherwise have been deemed meaningless. Faith in the face of apocalypse becomes a joint theme, along with importance of humanity over science, which is supported well by biblical references.

Special mention must be made for the 2002 restoration of the epic which happens to coincide with its 75th anniversary of release. With over 25 percent of the film’s footage lost, the techies at the F. W. Murnau Foundation have done a staggering job of gathering the remaining material, removing the blemishes from each and every frame and providing intertitles summarizing the missing sections. The conventional score by Gottfried Huppertz for the version majestically supports the grandeur of the film.

Metropolis invariably takes the second place when the works of Fritz Lang are discussed and is overpowered by the dynamism and adrenaline of M (1931), immensely influential by itself and unbound by time. When watched today, Metropolis may look very amateurish in the execution of its themes and dated in its techniques, but placing oneself in its age and assessing its influence on future of the medium and the massiveness of its strides, it is ineluctable to call it a classic.