A combination of excuses both reasonable and incredibly bad have left me unable to play along with the Hit Me With Your Best Shot series at the Film Experience these past several weeks, though I’ve wanted to. This week’s entry felt something like a bit of a gauntlet being thrown down: “Yeah, Brayton? Well, here’s a damn Federico Fellini movie, why not come up with some penny-ante reason to ignore that, punk.” Plus, it made for a nice distraction from the stack of unwritten reviews I have that is getting perilously bigger by the day.
Thus, my pick for the best shot from La dolce vita, directed by Fellini and shot by Otello Martelli: it comes late in the very long movie, which documents a week in the life of a miserable celebrity journalist played by Marcello Mastroianni. Though it alternates between daylight and nighttime sequences, the film is very much dominated by scenes that take place in the depths of the evening, when all of the beautiful people of Rome get their licentious on. The last of these debauched soirees has ended, when we find our revelers in a forest at dawn (this is, incidentally, the seventh dawn in the movie):
The dominance of shades of grey in the shot, set off by the bright white just at the edge, gives the whole thing the feeling of a cathedral of trees, a haunting place of nature where these ultimate cosmopolitan partiers find themselves quite by accident. Then they begin to walk, and the camera tracks with them.
Leaving behind their cars, a fairly obvious symbol of the swanky life that we’ve been witness to for nearly three hours, the group is drawn like a magnet to something we haven’t seen yet, gliding and tromping and running through the trees to find out what interesting thing is just on the edge, out in that light.
There’s something almost, I daresay, Buñuelian about the contrast between the haute couture and the blandly inhuman forest, which is starting to open up into whatever promised vista has captured the attention of all these characters.
Though Fellini has, throughout the film, presented la dolce vita as a thing to be envied and feared in equal measure, there’s something about this moment that feels as though he’s wiping his hands of the whole matter (a feeling much reinforced when we see what they’re running to – I won’t spoil it). It also feels a bit like waking up from a dream of darkness – and at the risk of repeating myself, La dolce vita is a thoroughly dark movie.
And there we are, the edge of the woods, the bright light of dawn promsing: an awakening? Not for the characters, who we’ll shortly learn have not changed an inch, unless it’s for the worse. But for the audience, this is the perfect way to rouse us back out of the movie, and into the real world. It’s an almost mystical shot, one of the points where the film definitively breaks from neo-realism into something more hypnotic and sublime, even if the filmmaker snaps the reverie instantly with one of the sickest jokes in a movie that consists of almost nothing but.