During my many walks throughout the eternal city, I noticed several posters promoting a photo exhibit on the golden age of Italian cinema. I was intrigued but, unfortunately, unable to attend since it opened once I returned to the states. In Rome, there is always so much to see and always too little time to see it.
It wasn’t until college that the world of Italian cinema was opened to me. It was then that I started to really appreciate it and I wanted to learn all that I could. But as happens with certain things, life and reality get in the way and sometimes you push to the side that which truly excited you. Your passions get lost somewhere between what you are doing and what you thought you’d always be doing. Your dreams begin to drift farther from your reality. Needless to say, not being able to see these photos was truly a missed opportunity for me. Fortunately, the second best thing happened and my sister went to see the exhibit in my place.
This particular exhibit focused on the golden age of Italian cinema in the 1950s and 1960s. The exhibit was appropriately entitled La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life) and featured photos, many candid, of stars, starlets, directors, and movie sets from this time. Films of this genre, and the neorealistic Italian films which preceded it, are some of my favorites. At this point, I could go on to give some wonderfully intelligent reason as to why I love them so much. I could talk about the complex reality of post WWII life they depict or give a commentary on the social changes occurring in the youth of that time. But it’s actually much simpler than that. I really just love these films because they transport me back to another time that I feel, in some strange way, so closely connected to. It’s as if I’ve almost lived it before. As if in a past life I could have been any one of these characters. I’m not sure where it stems from but there is a nostalgia that I have for certain periods in time that I will never be a part of. And this happens to be one of them.
It might also be because, in my mind, I have romanticized and idealized the time period and characters of these films. But I guess this is what films are meant to do. Furthermore, if it so happens that I can find a trace of parallel to my life in the story, in the characters, then I become even more drawn to the film. One such film is La Dolce Vita by renowned director Federico Fellini. There is so much more to this film than just the iconic scene where Anita Ekberg wades in the Trevi Fountain. Broadly, it is about the main character’s, Marcello, search for meaning, love, and happiness in a life where glamour, aristocracy, and decadence distract him at every turn. How does one distinguish what is real from what appears to be real? For Fellini, everything was realistic. He saw no line between the real and the imaginary. In the end, I see no resolution for Marcello and I’m left with the suspicion that he will remain forever passive, swayed and taken by the events and circumstances that surround him. His search for meaning, happiness, and love are futile. This and the fact that the film brings to the forefront the difference between what life is and what has been or the possibility of what it could be (as some have said) is where I find the strong parallel. Of course my situation is a bit different than Marcello’s. In my twenties I struggled with a similar sentiment. And in many ways I still continue to. How does one (me) move from passively living life to actually living? How does one (me) reconcile what life has been with what is? How does one (me) move forward when the possibility of what life could be is endless? All questions that I’m sure some existential philosopher would be happy to discuss with me. And I’m sure Fellini would have had something to say about it as well.