The milieux


The locations of La Dolce Vita often refer back to antiquity, not only because it is impossible to escape the past of the eternal city, but also because connotations of luxury must always hint at a resplendent history. From the opening shot of the Statue of Christ being flown in by a helicopter past the Acquedotto Claudio to the frolick through the Fontana di Trevi, the film points to a society that is not satisfied with a world of spiritual pleasures, but rather of world of man made spectacle -- that relies on media, movie stars, and gossip journalism to rescue it from boredom (Source: Burke, 86). The hustle and bustle of the cafe society around the famous Via Veneto is most aptly captured by Paparazzo (from which the term paparazzi was coined*). This was reflective on and off screen, as the numerous establishments that were created to cater for this film and tourist industry boom in Rome became flooded with stars, and consequently, paparazzi. The aristocracy sequence repeatedly refers further and further back to its rich roots, starting from the drive out to the Castle of Bassano di Sutri until the seance in the dilapidated 500-year old villa on its grounds. And on the other side of this narrative is the strive for modern glamour, represented in the housing of Steiner in the EUR. His intellectualism though, still does not save him from his own suicide. And all the while, the protagonist, Marcello, by virtue of his profession, of gossip journalist, as well as mental disposition remains an outsider, trying to transform from a mere observer but cannot ever fully realize his purpose beyond that.

*The character of Paparazzo, the news photographer (played by Walter Santesso) who works with Marcello, is the origin of the word paparazzi used in many languages to describe intrusive photographers. As to the origin of the character's name itself, Fellini scholar Peter Bondanella argues that although "it is indeed an Italian family name, the word is probably a corruption of the word papataceo, a large and bothersome mosquito. Ennio Flaiano, the film's co-screenwriter and creator of Paparazzo, reports that he took the name from a character in a novel by George Gissing." Gissing's character, Signor Paparazzo, is found in his travel book, By the Ionian Sea (1901). Source


The primary difference between the milieu of Breakfast at Tiffany's compared to the other two is the fact of the Manhattan street grid. As Rem Koolhaas wrote in "Delirious New York", the grid imposes an:

"indifference to topography, to what exists, it claims the superiority of mental construction over reality. Through the plotting of its streets and blocks it announces that the subjugation, if not obliteration, of nature is its true ambition. All blocks are the same; their equivalence invalidates, at once, all the systems of articulation and differntiation that have guided the design of traditional cities. The Grid makes the history of architecture and all previous lessons of urbanism irrelevant. It forces Manhattan’s builders to develop a new system of formal values, to invent strategies for the distinction of one block from another."

And since Manhattan itself is finite and the 2028 blocks of the grid fixed, the city and each specific experience within it becomes a mosaic of episodes superimposed upon this grid. The grid starts to collect meaning and cachet in certain areas that are by no means static, but carry hierarchies among themselves. Golightly understood this on the most subtle of levels yet exhibited them in the most overt ways. Her obsession over the Tiffany & Co. flagship store and her weekly visits up to Sing-Sing Prison gave her the full spectrum of this dynamic at work. As a "real phoney", she believed in the power of the fashionable milieux of the city to transform her from an impoverished Texan farm girl (she dropped her original name Lulamae Barnes) into a metropolitan savvy socialite.


To Catch a Thief sits in between the previous two films, in that though there is a history to draw upon, this milieux is of a different breed, apart from the Italian aristocracy and the New York socialite. It is the playing grounds of the international jet set.

The Carlton Hotel in Cannes, is said to be "undisputed headquarters of motion picture industry deal-making" and the most esteemed place to stay during the Cannes Film Festival. And being the location where most of the film is set, the hotel becomes a character onto itself:

"A hotel is a plot – a cybernetic universe with its own laws generating random but fortuitous collisions between human beings who would never have met elsewhere. It offers a fertile cross-section through the population, a richly textured interface between social castes, a field for the comedy of clashing manners, and a neutral background of routine operations to give every incident dramatic relief." (Source: Koolhaas, 124)

All the progressive moments of the film occur in the darker recesses of the chambers, the splendour of the dining hall, and the precarious tiled rooftops. John Robie, the retired jewel thief, tries to prove his innocence to the nouveau riche within this new fashionable milieux.

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