Its English-language connotation with glamor and carefree living comes from the famous film by the same name, Federico Fellini’s 1960 masterpiece.
In interviews that he gave in the years that followed its release, the Italian director repeatedly said that its meaning was widely misunderstood.
The title, he explained, came from the final sequence of the movie when the main character, Marcello (played by Marcello Mastroianni), sees the little girl, Paola, whom he’d met earlier in the story. It’s daybreak and he’s on the beach outside of Rome, following a night of hard partying with his jet-set friends. He’s coming to terms with the fact that the world around him, the milieu bourgeois to which he belongs, is morally bankrupt and devoid of purpose other than self-serving personal fulfillment.
But the sight of the beautiful, innocent child brings a smile to his face as he remembers — in Fellini’s telling — the inherent, abiding, and irrepressible sweetness of life itself.
Watch the sequence here. You don’t need to understand Italian to follow the narrative.
I was reminded of that scene yesterday when Tracie P and I went to pick up Georgia P (above) on her last day of preschool. She’ll start kindergarten in September and she’ll turn six in December. Tracie and I both shed a tear as we reflected on this last day in this chapter of her life.
She’s too little to understand words like “special counsel” or “collusion” or “impeachment” or “locker room talk.” She’s too young to ask questions about why the president of our country boasts of his electoral college results or the size of his hands. She simply wouldn’t be able to wrap her mind around why the president told the director of the FBI to go home or why the Senate majority leader has called for a little less “drama” from the White House.
The buffoonery of the 2016 presidential nominating process and election has now carried over into the running of our country and the direction of our nation — there is no doubt about it, no matter where you stand.
To you Trump supporters and loyalists, I ask: how do you explain this to your children? How do you explain that you voted for and support a man who’s irreparably degraded civil discourse in this country? How do you explain your faith in a man whose administration — running our country — is in a “downward spiral,” as a leading Republican Senator put it this week?
What’s a downward spiral, daddy?
Was all of this worth the wall on the border, the travel ban, the repeal of greater access to health care? How do you explain your embrace of moral bankruptcy for the sake of lower taxes for the wealthy and deregulation of big business? Smaller government and state’s self-determination are fair game in the political world. And I respect that. But how can you respect yourselves when you euphemize the Faustian deal you made with Trump to achieve those goals?
My oldest child is only five years old and I still don’t have to explain to her the choice that so many of my fellow Americans have made when they voted for Trump. Maybe they believed that Trump would act differently in the White House. That clearly isn’t going to happen at this point. Maybe they believed that he would act as he has for his whole life and that was okay with them. Maybe moral rectitude is no longer an aspiration we should instill in our children.
Tracie and I have a few more years ahead of us before we will have to explain Trump America to our children. In the meantime, the tears we shed remind us that there is a sweetness to life that no one, not even Donald Trump, can destroy.