The film is about a few days in the life of Rome based reporter Marcello and his varied misadventures. I was put off by it's length and acclaim and have kept it in the freezer for long but it turns out to be an exuberant eye filling roller coaster and a feast of black and white cinematography.
As the film opens a statue of the Christ one hand raised in benediction dangles from a helicopter borne across the sky. Marcello juggles three women in the loosely connected episodes which make up the movie. As he dallies with heiress Maddelina, his fiancée attempts suicide. There is a long chunk of his two day affair with a mercurial American actress. His father visits him and has a heart attack in the company of a dancer. A friend of his named Steiner inexplicably shoots his two children and himself. Another episode is about two children who have supposedly seen the Madonna. We see the public hysteria with milling crowds, sick people on stretchers hoping for a miraculous cure and media people converging at the site like a swarm of scavengers. The film is a series of parties and orgies sputtering to an abrupt closure with another media event: a giant fish is washed ashore while the ocean churns timelessly in the background .
What is the sweet life? Marcello is borne helplessly on a tide of events. The film maker lenses this chaotic melancholy joy ride with a gruesome tragedy dumped incongruously at it's center, with aplomb and detachment .The camera-work is conttinuously breathtaking. By making no attempt to confine the narration by constraints of plot and continuity the artist has managed to compress an effortlessly inspired cinematic essay about life into a short span of time. Indeed, this is black and white poetry.