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MOVIE REVIEW : Rereleased ‘Vita’ Affirms Fellini Genius

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Federico Fellini’s 1960 “La Dolce Vita” (at the Monica 4-Plex for two weeks with a fresh 35mm print) is one of the key works of the modern cinema. A brilliantly conceived epic fable about a scandal reporter (Marcello Mastroianni) adrift in Rome’s high life, it introduced the term paparazzi into the vocabulary, and depicted, with a judicious mixture of satire and compassion, the glitter world of celebrity now avidly chronicled in supermarket tabloids.

“La Dolce Vita” is also one of the triumphs of have-it-both-ways filmmaking: Fellini reveals the emptiness, boredom and destructiveness of the Via Veneto existence while at the same time making it highly glamorous and seductive.

Be warned, however. If you’re old enough to have seen “La Dolce Vita” first run, you may find it doesn’t have the same dazzling impact right from the start--that it takes time to become caught up in it. It’s not that the film is less than you remembered it--it is an arguably great film--but that its world, thanks to those tabloids, lurid TV reportage and People magazine, is so much more familiar. Indeed, one can but speculate as to just how crucial this film was in giving birth to the contemporary media sensationalism it reveals as lethally shallow; Marcello, surely, anticipates Geraldo.

Ever on the run, Rubini, in a series of superbly orchestrated episodes, moves easily from his base in the Via Veneto to nightclubs and parties thrown by decadent aristocrats in their crumbling palazzos. He covers everything from dubious miracles to arriving Hollywood stars; each and every one of his encounters is memorable, deeply evocative and revealing of his fading lack of serious purpose. Since Rubini is handsome, polished and charming, he has an easy entree to every level of the social strata. (Fellini, once a Roman journalist himself, understands well how corrupting simple access to the rich and powerful can be.)

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Rubini understandably attracts a wanton heiress (Anouk Aimee) as well as a Hollywood sex goddess (Anita Ekberg), who possesses an exuberant, beguiling childlike innocence; she’s, of all things, a kittenish amazon of a woman.

With its shimmering, hauntingly familiar Nino Rota score, Otello Martelli’s ravishingly lit black-and-white cinematography and its endless processions of the foolish, the grotesque, the jaded and the merely young and beautiful, “La Dolce Vita” is truly unforgettable.

There are the grand moments rewardingly revisited: Marcello’s night on the town with the unexpectedly visiting father (Annibale Ninchi) he realizes he really doesn’t know and never will; the all-night romp over Rome with Ekberg that winds up with the famous wading sequence in the Trevi Fountain; and the all-too-brief times spent with his intellectual friend Steiner (the late Alain Cuny) whose despair is far greater--and of far greater consequence--than Rubini could ever imagine.

“La Dolce Vita,” which Fellini wrote with Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano and Brunello Rondi, is the kind of film possessed of such vision and scale--and such a sharp sense of the transitory quality of life--that it can get away with the boldest, most blatant of symbols: the bravura opening of Rubini riding in a helicopter delivering a statue of Christ the Laborer to the Vatican and pausing to flirt with some bikini-clad sunbathers, an ironic image at once sacred and profane, and the equally bravura closing, involving Rubini’s bemused confrontation with a sea monster choked to death on jellyfish.

“La Dolce Vita” (Times-rated Mature for adult themes and situations) reminds us just how enduring and intuitively cinematic a storyteller Fellini is--and, sadly, how his most recent work remains unreleased in the United States.

‘La Dolce Vita’

Marcello Mastroianni: Marcello Rubini

Anita Ekberg: Sylvia

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Maddalena Anouk: Aimee

Yvonne Furneaux: Emma

A Kit Parker Films release of an Italo-French co-production: Riama Films (Rome) and Pathe Cinema (Paris). Director Federico Fellini. Producer Giuseppe Amato. Executive producer Franco Magli. Screenplay by Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano and Brunello Rondi; based on a story by Fellini. Cinematographer Otello Martelli. Editor Leo Gattozzo. Costumes/art direction Piero Gherardi. Music Nino Rota. Sound Agostino Moretti. In Italian with English subtitles. Running time: 3 hours.

Times-rated Mature: (adult themes and situtations).

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