Italy longs for its heyday on 'La Dolce Vita' anniversary

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Saturday 06 November 2010 01:00
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There is a whiff of nostalgia in Rome these days - with posters all around showing the celebrated Trevi Fountain kiss between Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg in the 1960 film "La Dolce Vita".

"Fifty years since the masterpiece. Fifty years in which that sweet life has unfortunately become only a distant memory," the Il Messaggero daily said of the movie that nonetheless tested the limits of its day and was condemned by the Vatican and banned by Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.

The film's 50th anniversary has been accompanied by exhibitions, shows and the release of a digitally remastered version of the cult classic, with 10 additional minutes of scenes with the famously voluptuous Swedish actress and a glimpse of director Federico Fellini.

Ekberg and US director Martin Scorsese attended the world premiere of the renovated movie at the Rome Film Festival taking place in the Italian capital.

"It seems like light years have gone by since the time in which everything was possible in Italy, just like in the American Dream," Il Messaggero mourned.

The film has become a synonym for a type of comfortable Italian lifestyle increasingly challenged by the country's current economic difficulties.

Sandra Milo, an actress and former lover of Fellini's who attended the festival, said the good times of "La Dolce Vita" are definitively over.

"There's nothing left of all that. The love for fantasy, for dreaming, is no longer there. No one believes it any more," Milo told reporters.

"Italy used to be the best in the world. But there's nothing left."

Film historian Chris Wagstaff said the film painted a picture of Italy at an optimistic and frenetic time during the country's post-war economic miracle - a fact that has helped secure its enduring popularity in Italy.

The film tells the story of a journalist, played by the late Mastroianni, who spends a week in Rome in a futile quest for love and happiness.

"It's a fresco of Rome in that particular moment, when Rome was Hollywood on the Tiber," said Wagstaff, a senior lecturer at Reading University in Britain and author of "Italian Neorealist Cinema".

- 'It breaks the rules' -

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It also portrayed - and judged - an era of liberation in Rome following the death of conservative Pope Pius XII, he said, adding: "Suddenly the brakes were taken off after Pius XII. Rome exploded."

"La Dolce Vita" reflects the rapid modernisation going on in Italy, the rise of tabloid media and the boom in the construction industry, he said.

"Rome was exploding with money... The film shows a kind of consumerist culture that has no moral or spiritual anchor," he added.

For Wagstaff, "La Dolce Vita" was innovative because of its disjointed storyline, and notable as one of the first art house films to have commercial success.

Cinemas were mobbed when the film was released despite its three-hour length - a fact due in no small part to its severe condemnation by the church.

The official Vatican daily Osservatore Romano condemned it in an article entitled "Schifosa Vita" ("Disgusting Life").

The church even called for Fellini's excommunication and churches prayed for the salvation of the "sinful" director.

The film went on to win the Palme d'Or, the top award at the Cannes Film Festival, the same year.

Fellini's inspirations are also the subject of a major new exhibition in the former Testaccio abattoir in Rome created by Dante Ferretti, a production designer on some of the Italian director's most famous films.

The exhibition re-creates the ancient Roman red light district of Subura and displays costumes and decorations from Fellini's films.

There is also a Fellini exhibit at the Hotel Majestic on the grand Via Veneto - site of some "La Dolce Vita's" nightlife scenes.

At the premiere of the digitally remastered version, which is to be shown in 12 Italian cities, celebrities paid tribute to the film.

"In my mind, there is a before and after 'La Dolce Vita'. It breaks the rules," Scorsese said.

"There's no story, no plot, and yet the movie is three hours long. He never told a straight story again."

Asked about her memories of the film, Ekberg was more down-to-earth, saying: "I remember the freezing water of the Trevi Fountain."

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