I never watch movies more than once really. But La Dolce Vita I must have seen at least four times. And every time, I see something more wonderful in it.
This time, watching it with Dominic, I was mesmerized by Mastroioni’s acting. Such a meltingly human performance.
There is a scene buried in the middle of the 3+ hours where he bumps into his father in a cafe in Rome. His Dad is in from the countryside and is obviously taken with his son’s glittering social life. Marcello takes him to a club and they meet a French dancing girl. Marcello’s father buys them all champagne and clearly is intoxicated both by the girl and the flashbacks to his youth. Drunk they decide to head back to the girl’s house for spaghetti. The father goes in the car with Fanny and Marcello follows after with the others.
However, Marcello takes a long route and when he arrives tells the others to make his excuses to his father. But before he can leave Fanny rushes out distraught. Marcello’s father has taken a turn and she is frantic with worry. Marcello goes to see his father and enters the room alone. His father barely looks at him. Hurries away to catch the early train back to the country and his wife. Marcello urges him to stay but the father has already booked a taxi and leaves.
There are so many magnetic scenes in La Dolce Vita but this one has always stuck in my mind. I’m always moved by father-son reunions in movies – but watching this scene this time round I was aware of the massively subtle complexity of it.
There’s the father’s intoxication with the glittering memories of his youth and his slightly vampiric excitement over Marcello’s friends. There’s Marcello’s fond excitement when his father gets drunk and flirts with Fanny. But most moving and upsetting is that moment – which I’d always missed before – when Marcello is deliberately slow catching up with Fanny and his Father. Implicit in that is the idea that he thinks his dad is going to have sex with Fanny and he wants to give him space.
However, when he enters that room and the father is silent and won’t look at him then the tawdriness of that supposition – that he was effectively being a pimp so his dad could cheat on his mum – becomes awful. Both he and the father are implicated in that half hour that the dad spent alone with the artless Fanny. It casts a shameful shadow over Marcello’s life which extends right to the end in that ugly, violent party by the beach.
Such a brilliant movie. And with the most mysterious, beautiful and uplifting final image…