The premiere of «La Dolce Vita» in the Capitol cinema was anything but quiet: much of the audience booed its protagonist, Marcello Mastroianni, with cries of «communist» and «vagabondo» and even its director, Federico Fel lini, received a spit, while the Church prepared a major offensive for a film he called a «pornographic school.»
«A guy spat in my neck, and when I turned to see who I was, he yelled at me, «Shame on me!» Fellini later told the newspaper «Il Giorno,» fearing a commercial failure that turned out to be quite the opposite.
The controversy gave wings to a film that became one of the biggest public hits in Italy, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, competed in the Oscars and transformed the history of cinema, as told by Fellini’s biographer and friend , Tullio Kezich.
The church, the right and the left against
The film features a journalist of the heart, played by Marcello Mastroianni, who moves between a society of excessive and amoral spectacle, something that, along with scenes such as that of the mythical bath in the Trevi Fountain, did not like the Church at all.
In the Vatican newspaper, «L’Osservatore Romano», appeared a series of very harsh articles against Fellini, one of them entitled «The obscene life», in reference to the title of the work.
Kezich recalled, in an interview with «Corriere della Sera,» how the scandal came to parliament with a debate about the morality of «La dolce vita» at the behest of neo-fascist politicians, while neither was the director of «La dolce vita» freed Attacks.
«Left-wing critics did not trust him because he refused to accept the Marxist point of view, Fellini went beyond ideologies,» the writer Gordiano Lupi explained in his book «Federico Fellini, a master of cinema.»
The newspaper «Secolo d’Italia», linked to far-right parties, did not save an appellation when it called «La dolce vita» «a lie, an insult, an attack on the nation, society and morals».
For Kezich, the origin of this rejection was that right-wing thinkers «understood precisely that the film showed the change of a society in which reactionary power came to an end.»
Italian’s biggest commercial success
Fellini found precisely among the intellectuals some of his few allies, such as Alberto Moravia, Indro Montanelli or Pier Paolo Pasolini, with whom he would have a complicated relationship, and who defined the film as «a Catholic film» while denouncing censorship.
The Catholic protest at a film they considered «immoral» was not limited to Italy, as the Church prevented «La dolce vita» from being released in Spain, Portugal and Greece, and threatened excommunication for anyone who saw the film of the «sinful public» Fellini.
None of this would matter to viewers who flocked to see the film of a director who, although already with two Oscars, was still not very popular with the audience.
The 13.6 million people who came to see it made it the biggest Italian commercial success so far, but the relevance of «La dolce vita» went much further, creating an imaginary and language that would forever mark the history of cinema.