High and low life in modern Rome are seen through the eyes of a reporter, Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni), whose beat brings him into contact with a world-famous film star (Anita Ekberg); with an unhappy and over-rich nymphomanic society girl (Anouk Aimee); with a false miracle ‘announced’ by two lying children and exploited by press and TV; with the suicide of an intellectual (Alain Cuny) whom he’s always idolized; with a debauched and tired party in a nobleman’s castle peopled by ghosts of past and present; and finally, with an orgy (complete with a striptease performed by the hostess) staged in a futile search for excitement by a grostesque assortment of youths and grownups of all sexes. All the while, the reporter refuses the advances of the only woman (Yvonne Furneaux) who really loves him.
Perhaps many spectators will squirm at the three-hour length of the film or of some of its sequences (though director Federico Fellini cut some 30 minutes from his final print), yet others will never notice they’ve sat that long.
The performances are uniformly excellent. Mastroianni is perfect in the key role of the basically good and honest boy who succumbs to the sweet life. Ekberg is a revelation as the visiting star, while Furneaux almost runs off with the picture as the reporter’s instinctive, possessive mistress.
A fine bit is turned in by Annibale Ninchi as the father, another by Magali Noel as a dancer he befriends, another by Lex Barker as Ekberg’s slightly inebriated, slightly separated spouse. Aimee is fine as the society girl who craves company, as is Cuny as Marcello’s craggy-faced intellectual friend.
A further nod must go to Otello Martelli’s mood-full black-and-white lensing, while Nino Rota’s musical scoring is another vital plus.