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La Dolce Vita

Written by Rodney Welch Thursday, 30 June 2011 15:37

After years of making great slice-of-life films of Italian life, Federico Fellini in 1960 turned his attention to Italy itself—Italy and, by extension, life in the modern world. The result was La Dolce Vita, a three-hour epic about a philandering tabloid journalist, Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni), who is torn between settling down with the one woman who truly loves him, the needy, fiery Emma (Yvonne Furneaux) and the many women he attracts. Marcello is torn in other ways as well, as he dreams of being a real writer but is a little too intoxicated by "the sweet life"—the great Italian nightlife of cafes, cabarets, beautiful homes, whores, long drives, and impulsive romantic escapades.

Marcello's story, his rise and eventual fall, is the framework for a bigger story, an examination of a society where sensation has taken over, where values (whatever they once were) no longer matter, and where the fake has long since supplanted the real. From beginning to end, the world of La Dolce Vita is filled with masks and fakery, in ways both obvious and not. It begins with one of the signature shots of 1960s cinema: in which a statue of Christ, dangling from a helicopter, wafts through the air in transport to the Vatican—a suggestion, perhaps, that this is as close to a Second Coming as this society is going to receive, that religion is either as much of a sham as everything else, or in any event that it no longer connects with the lives of people.

What does connect? What is it that has meaning, value, purpose? The question lingers in the background as Fellini takes us from one crazy event to the next. There's Maddalena (Anouk Aimee), Marcello's lover, whose life is full of as many random encounters as his, whose idea of spicing up her sex life is to pick up a hooker and then seduce Marcello on the bed in the woman's flooded apartment. There's Sylvia, the busty American actress (Anita Ekberg) who is all body and no brain—a child in a woman's body—as vapid as she is sexy. There's Emma, the soul of the film, the fiercely passionate lover who wants only a home and family, which is just the kind of environment that for Marcello offers nothing but sterility. And, most painfully of all, there is Steiner (Alain Cuny), Marcello's idol, the man he wants to be, and a man so burned-out on life he would rather be anyone else.

Widely controversial in its own day—for reasons that seem rather quaint to us 50 years later—and hugely influential, La Dolce Vita became one of the key movies of its day to examine the jet set; lots of movies have since penetrated the not-so-secret world of the rich and famous, but it was one of the first and it remains the best. Also, it's a work that is steeped in ambition, as Fellini erects one ambitious sequence after the next, creating scenes (particularly the orgy at the end) that would define him forever.

A brilliant reflection of Italy in a certain era, it is also a work that ages well, not only in the way it addresses the search for values, but also the search for love. It's a movie about mostly superficial people, but it is itself anything but superficial.

Nominated for four Academy Awards and winner of the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival, it was voted the 6th Greatest film of all time by Entertainment Weekly, ranked #11 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema", and continues to show regularly on lists of great films.

Available for free streaming at Netflix or for purchase at Amazon.


Q and A with Marcia Clark June 22

Wednesday, 01 June 2011 00:00

altYou may know Marcia Clark as the lead prosecutor in the O. J. Simpson trial. But if that’s all you know about her, you have some catching up to do. Clark has launched a new career as a novelist with Guilt by Association, a legal thriller featuring District Attorney Rachel Knight.

As if prosecuting crime as part of LA's Special Trials Unit weren’t enough, Knight finds herself ensnared in the circumstances surrounding a colleague’s death. According to a Publishers Weekly starred review, “Readers will want to see a lot more of Knight, who combines strength of character and compassion with all-too-human foibles.” Reviewers praise Clark’s humor, fast-paced plotting, and of course, her authenticity. You can read an excerpt from the novel here.

Clark will be visiting BookBalloon on June 22 to chat about Guilt by Association and answer questions from readers. Don’t miss this chance to get in on one of the most exciting debuts of the year.

Forum participation requires registration, which is free.


June Movie Club: The Death of Mr Lazarescu

Tuesday, 26 April 2011 00:00


The Movie Club has scheduled The Death of Mr Lazarescu for its June discussion.

Variety was right when it called this film "unexpectedly mesmerising."... The Death of Mr Lazarescu grips like an Arthur Miller play.... Four months after having seen this film, I wonder why it still moves me so much. -- Mark Cousins


  • Cannes: Un Certain Regard Award
  • Chicago International Film Festival: Special Jury Prize
  • Copenhagen International Film Festival: Jury Special Prize

Lazarescu is currently available at Netflix, or you can buy it through Amazon or anywhere fine movies are sold.


New Reading Club

Friday, 21 January 2011 17:31

Here at BookBalloon, we're following along with the Library of America's Story of the Week project: "Every Monday The Library of America will feature a free Story of the Week. It could be anything: a short work of fiction, a character sketch, an essay, a journalist’s dispatch, a poem. What is certain is that it will be memorable, because every story is from one of the hundreds of classic books of American literature published by The Library of America."

Join us in the Reading Club as we discuss these classics. Forum registration is free.


BookBalloon's Best Books of 2010

Thursday, 20 January 2011 23:01

Kings of the EarthEvery year, one of our forum members, Julie, compiles a list of BookBallooners' favorite books. These are our favorite books read during 2010 (not necessarily published in 2010).

We highly recommend:

1. Kings of the Earth - Jon Clinch

2. Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet - David Mitchell

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot

3. Next - James Hynes

4. Freedom - Jonathan Franzen

5. The Lonely Polygamist - Brady Udall

Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel

6. Nashville Chrome - Rick Bass

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter - Tom Franklin

Faithful Place - Tana French

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand - Helen Simonson

7. Cassandra at the Wedding - Dorothy Baker

8. At Mrs. Lippincote's - Elizabeth Taylor

Composed: A Memoir - Rosanne Cash

Gold Boy, Emerald Girl - Yiyun Lee

How to Live, Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts - Sarah Bakewell

I Shall Wear Midnight - Terry Pratchett

Kraken - China Mieville

The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver

The Nobodies Album - Carolyn Parkhurst

The Passage - Justin Cronin

So Much for That - Lionel Shriver

Stitches - David Small

The Surrendered - Chang-Rae Lee

A Visit from the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan

9. Before They are Hanged - Joe Abercrombie

The Cookbook Collector - Allegra Goodman

The Hand That First Held Mine - Maggie O'Farrell

The Last Argument of Kings - Joe Abercrombie

Lord of Misrule - Jamie Gordon

The Moonflower Vine - Jetta Carleton

The Slap - Christos Tsiolkas

Congratulations to all of our winners! May 2011 be as great a reading year or even better!


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The NYRB Reading Club

Speedboat by Renata Adler


"When Speedboat burst on the scene in the late ’70s it was like nothing readers had encountered before. It seemed to disregard the rules of the novel, but it wore its unconventionality with ease. Reading it was a pleasure of a new, unexpected kind." -- New York Review Books

John Leonard said, "Nobody writes better prose than Renata Adler." What do you think? The discussion begins May 15 in the Forum.

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