12. “La Dolce Vita”, Federico Fellini (1960)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

La Dolce Vita

La Dolce Vita or The Sweet Life

dir. Federico Fellini scr. Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, Brunello Rondi cin. Otello Martelli with Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimée, Yvonne Furneaux, Magali Noël, Alain Cuny, and Nadia Gray

In 100 words: Fellini’s masterpiece is this beautiful nightmare of a movie: at once a joyous display of cinematic craft, definitive style, and auto-reflection and simultaneously, a despairing look at the emptiness of a hedonistic lifestyle. Whereas Antonioni painted a decaying society with empty roads and spaces, Fellini portrayed the same with the opposite: he filled his frames with indelible images of crowds that surround Marcello, or him being with a different beautiful woman every day, or him participating in an orgy. Either way, nothing he does satisfies him, and that’s the point. Vivid images, great choice in music, lovely performance grace notes.

Other Movies for Context: I think about Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty when I see this movie, particularly because Sorrentino’s obvious affection for Fellini are evident. Interestingly enough, I can say the same for Im Sang Soo’s The Taste of Money which just engrosses its characters in so much wealth, without ever finding satisfaction. Fellini’s own 8 1/2 (1963) feels the most similar among his oeuvre, though that’s more of a mess to me than the beautifully orchestrated mess here.

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51. “Bicycle Thieves”, Vittorio de Sica (1948)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen List

Bicycle Thieves

Bicycle Thieves aka Ladri di biciclette

dir. Vittorio de Sica scr. Vittorio de Sica, Cesare Zavattini, Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Gerardo Guerrieri, Oreste Biancoli, Adolfo Franci cin. Carlo Montuori with Enzo Stiaola and Lamberto Maggiorani

In 100 words: This landmark of Italian neorealism has built a staggering portrait of post-war Rome, with remarkable empathy for its main characters’ hopefulness, triumphs, and desperation, without turning maudlin. The narrative builds to a powerful choice and an ending full of ambiguity, and perhaps generosity towards its characters and the uncertainty about their future. De Sica’s camerawork and framing captures the desperation of a city trying to rebuild, but alive with activity.  It’s a more deeply psychological take on poverty than Rosselini’s: we understand how vital that bicycle is, but also understand too well reasons behind the choices people make to survive.

Other Movies for Context: Vittorio de Sica is an important figure in Italian cinema and this film basically cemented his status is a premiere director. His Umberto D. (1952) similarly focuses on the harshness of life in post-war Italy, even if it’s a bit more depressing than this one. I also like Two Women (1960), the movie that won Sophia Loren her Oscar for Best Actress.