Movie buffs will remember Fellini's 1960 film "La Dolce Vita" as an existential statement about the emptiness of life in Rome's glamorous uppercrust. Marcello Mastroianni portrays a reporter for a tabloid newspaper, frustrated and unfulfilled despite the company of screen beauties like Anita Ekberg and Anouk Aimee. The ironical title means "the sweet life."

Several of the more noteworthy scenes from the movie are highlighted on the T-shirts and sweat shirts sold at La Dolce Vita Ristorante Italiano in downtown Provo, right in the heart of Utah County. This is somewhat ironic, too, because this is the one valley in Utah that takes the notion of the "sweet life" quite literally.But Utahns, whether resident of "happy valley" or interlopers such as ourselves from more worldly places like Salt Lake City, should appreciate the wonderful homemade Italian cuisine served at this informal eatery.

The tempting aromas of homebaked bread mingle with garlic and other herbs that fill the brightly lit interior of La Dolce Vita. The decor, spiced by a wall-size mural of the Italian peninsula and colorful canisters of Italian cookies and other specialties, is nothing more than a converted soda fountain.

We sampled three of the eight entrees, along with a hefty pizza, and found each of the dishes fresh and flavorful. Two of our favorites were the gnocchi ($6.50), potato dumplings, and pasta gratte , thick quill-shaped macaroni pieces, both bathed in a creamy cheese sauce. These were two of the nightly specials.

The rich red tomato sauce with the spaghetti con polpetta ($6.50) was accentuated with freshly ground pepper and a generous dose of oregano. The cotoletta alla Milanese ($6.50), a thin slice of breaded veal cutlet, was surprisingly tender. Both the portion and price were easy to digest.

Dinners include a green salad, somewhat sparse, and a warm buttered slice of homemade bread. We had wished for a salad with a bit more crunch and size than the soup bowl serving, to further savor the lively Italian dressing, a scarlet blend of vinegar and olive oil.

Other menu offerings include lasagna , cannelone ($6.50), several choices of calzones (around $5), three different combination plates, and specials like fettucini Alfredo (Wednesday) and Tortellini alla panna (Friday). Several homemade soups are also offered each night.

The portions are more than generous, and the pasta is perfectly al dente. We barely had room for dessert. Sensing our satiated state (unlike Mastroianni), our attentive waitress urged us to at least try one of the homemade sweet treats regularly featured on the menu.

The babba ($1.50), a baseball-shaped sweetened cake filled with custard and drenched with sugar syrup and flavored with a rum sauce, was definitely a treat as well as a bargain. Many restaurants seem to hype their dessert specials, which cost from $3 to $5. Most aren't even homemade. This was certainly not the case with La Dolce Vita.

Other "sweet life" dessert specials include briosce - vanilla ice cream filled sweet bread; zuppetta - layers of cake, custard and cherry filling; and cannolo - a tube of french bread filled with custard. Each are priced $1.50.

La Dolce Vita's owner, Giovanni Della Corte, hails from Naples, and based on the accents of some of the help, they share similar roots. Since 1984, La Dolce Vita has been pleasing local afficiandos of Italian cuisine with colorful dishes and a hearty wish of "buon appetitio!"

Rating: * * * 1/2

La Dolce Vita, 61 N. 100 East, Provo. 373-8482. Open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. Closed Sunday. Accepts major credit cards and check with guarantee card. Orders to go; no reservations accepted.