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AUG. 6–19

Opening with Jesus on his way out of Rome—in the form of a statue dangling from a helicopter—and ending with suicide, despair, and a very bad party, La Dolce Vita is Federico Fellini’s farewell to neorealism and his prologue to two decades of cinematic decadence. Seen today, the 1960 satire/docudrama/fantasia has a sort of innocence. Life among the paparazzi—a term the film popularized—has only gotten meaner since Marcello (Marcello Mastrioanni) stalked the Via Veneto, and many of the actors who seem so alive here (including Mastrioanni and a pre-Velvets Nico) are now dead. Originally conceived as a sequel to 1953’s I Vitelloni, the movie turns its predecessor’s autobiographical character, Moraldo, into celebrity journalist Marcello. He explores the “dark jungle” that is Rome, looking for stories and love, and he sometimes fleetingly finds both in the same place. (Assigned to interview a ditsy actress played by Anita Ekberg, Marcello ends up spending the night with her, culminating in a splash in the Trevi Fountain.) But Marcello’s life isn’t all today’s and tomorrow’s parties. He also covers two children who claim to be visited regularly by the Madonna and spends an evening with his father. Returning to I Vitelloni’s turf, the film ends on the beach, with Marcello raising his hands in a gesture of helplessness. After La Dolce Vita, the director would seldom again balance life and dreams as cogently. The lights continued to glow on the Via Veneto, but Fellini’s jungles only got darker. The film screens daily from Friday, Aug. 6, through Thursday, Aug. 19 (see Showtimes for a complete schedule of times), at the American Film Institute’s Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. $8.50. (301) 495-6700. (Mark Jenkins)