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La Dolce Vita: Collector's Edition

Throughout the history of cinema there have been actors and filmmakers who shaped and transformed the vocabulary of filmed storytelling. Without question, Federico Fellini was one of those great masters, a director whose influence was felt globally. And he has a trump card over most other famous auteurs — can any other director claim to have added a word to the international vocabulary? After all, at virtually every point on the globe, when a celebrity is followed (and occasionally stalked) by photographers, these culture-vultures are referred to as "paparazzi," which originated from a character in Fellini's 1960 masterpiece La Dolce Vita ("The Sweet Life"). It's a variation on the name of one of the photographers in the film, Paparazzo — played by Walter Santesso — who acts just as one expects for someone with his moniker. And that the film could add to dictionaries the world over bespeaks its international acclaim. The hugely successful Dolce Vita was a turning point in Fellini's career: It was his first picture to earn widespread attention, netted his first nomination for the Best Director Oscar, and yielded both fame and infamy (the film was condemned by the Catholic church for its libidinous and sacrilegious content). But unlike other taboo-breaking movies that seem modern and hip in their era's context — usually to become antiquated a few years later — La Dolce Vita is still potent, expressing an ennui that remains contemporary. Told through an episodic narrative that is frequently set during twilight hours of evenings out, Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni) is a reporter for a tabloid who has wheedled his way into the most happening scenes in Rome. Often finding himself "spending time" with Maddalena (Anouk Aimee), he's been living with the manic Emma (Yvonne Furneaux), whose suicide attempts underscore the barrier their relationship has reached; she loves him more than he loves her, and it's turned her into a clingy, matronly figure. But Marcello doesn't help matters — he's often chasing women, and his habits have him out one night with Sylvia (Anita Ekberg), a flighty starlet with a bruiser of a boyfriend. Sylvia and Marcello's evening leads to the film's most renowned sequence, in which Sylvia decides to wade in a fountain for no apparent reason. Marcello also spends time with his friend Steiner (Alain Cuny), who has a wife and two children and seems to be living the perfect life, but Steiner expresses concerns that he's abandoned his dreams by settling down. Marcello is surprised by an unexpected visit by his father, and the two spend a night out, after which his dad goes home with a dancer, and Marcello realizes how little he knows him. Work often intrudes, sending Marcello on a trip with Emma to document two children who say they saw the Virgin Mary in a tree (their claims appear false); it's a sequence that bespeaks the greatest difference between the two — she's a believer, he a cynic. But the further Marcello goes along, the more perturbed he becomes with his life and himself; his relationship with Emma disintegrates while Maddalena proposes to him, only to sleep with another man moments later. The film veers into even darker terrain when a tragedy occurs that irrevocably changes Marcello.

*          *          *

La Dolce Vita found Fellini in his prime, particularly in this particular era (his next feature would be 8-1/2), and his sense of camera and framing (of the CinemaScope film) is stunning. But for those with a reticence towards Fellini's fascination with both circuses and the grotesque, La Dolce Vita could be typed "The Fellini film for people who don't like Fellini films." Though it's filled with numerous outlandish situations, this dictum seems apt — there's no wide-eyed innocent, the type Giulietta Masina often plays in his oeuvre, while the circus atmosphere is viewed with a hint of contempt. In fact, cynicism and disappointment are the chief sentiments expressed by Marcello. Though much has been said about the picture's glamorous parties, and the eventual dullness of those parties, the theme remains one of communication, and how human interaction — even between just two people — is often faulty, and profoundly difficult. The story opens and closes with Marcello unable to hear women talking at him, while every relationship is poisoned by pretense and an inability to connect. For an episodic work, it's the simple bond that ties each fragment to the next. Moreover, with the sense of a generational malaise — building upon Fellini's discourse on the subject in I Vitelloni — Marcello's character spends much of the picture complaining he isn't doing all of what he wants to do with his life. As much fun as the parties are, he would rather be a better artist. That sense of frustration, the realization that lives unexpectedly turn out more banal than one had hoped, is Fellini at his most universal. Koch Lorber presents their Collector's Edition of La Dolce Vita in a two-disc set with a remastered and restored anamorphic widescreen transfer (2.35:1) and the original monaural audio, alongside subtle Dolby Digital 5.1 and stereo (2.0) remixes, and with optional English subtitles. The remastering is simply stunning, and the film looks better than ever. The first disc features a commentary by Richard Schickel, and an introduction from director Alexander Payne (5 min.). On Disc Two is a section entitled "Fellini TV" (35 min.), which features 22 television parodies the maestro made for inclusion in his 1986 film Ginger and Fred but couldn't find room for in the finished product. "Cinecitta: La Casa di F. Fellini" (4 min.) offers a tour of the director's office, and a look at his souvenirs from a lifetime of filmmaking. "Remembering The Sweet Life" (12 min.) offers interviews with stars Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni (from 1987 and 90, respectively). "Fellini Roma Cinecitta" (6 min.) features an interview with Fellini as he talks about his love of Rome. "Restoration Demonstration" (8 min.) includes comparative clips to illustrate how much work went into the transfer. A still gallery, biographies, filmographies, and bonus trailers round out the set. Dual-DVD keep-case.

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