December 11, 2004
I Vitelloni (1953) is the story of five friends growing up in a small, seaside town in Italy. Director Federico Fellini introduces them via a voiceover narration and a fluid tracking shot that Martin Scorsese would later employ for similar effect in both Mean Streets (1973) and GoodFellas (1990). There is Fausto (Fabrizi), the leader and “spiritual guide,” Moraldo (Interlenghi), the youngest and most moral, Leopoldo (Trieste), the playwright and resident poet, Alberto (Sordi) and the thoughtful Riccardo (Fellini). Out of the five, Fausto gets perhaps the most screen time devoted to his trials and tribulations.
Fausto is a vain ladies’ man always on the make. This gets him into all kinds of trouble. As the film begins he has gotten local beauty, Sandra (Ruffo), pregnant. With no money and no prospects, Fausto decides to run away and find work in Milan. But his father (Brochard) forces him to stay, do the right thing and deal with the consequences of his actions. So, Fausto marries Sandra and settles into married life but he cannot change who he is and his eye wanders often.
Fellini perfectly captures the aimless nature of youth. These guys have no prospects and no direction in their lives. They spend all of their time playing pool and chasing girls while dreaming of going to Rome. They feel trapped in this small town where nothing happens. As one character says, “Another day has come to an end. Nothing to do but go home as usual.” They all live at home and seem to have no real ambition except for Leopoldo who writes plays and hopes to become a famous playwright.
Visually, one of the most impressive scenes is the Carnivale party. It’s a joyous affair as the whole town turns out to drink and dance the night away. The party culminates in an amazing shower of confetti as the entire room erupts in festive celebration. There is so much detail packed into this scene and so much going on. In contrast, Fellini also shows the sobering aftermath: garbage-strewn streets and a drunken Alberto stumbling around until Moraldo helps him home.
Fellini doesn’t judge his characters. He clearly has affection for all of them and there is a sense of nostalgia that permeates the entire film. Responsibility is seen as the enemy of youthful freedom. All of the five men clearly try to avoid it for as long as they can but it is inevitable. Fellini’s trademark sense of humour is also apparent. At one point, Alberto mouths off at some construction workers by the side of the road only to have his car break down a few seconds later. The enraged workers chase after him. Leopoldo, who was asleep in the backseat, wakes up and pleads to one angry worker that he’s a socialist. The man replies, “Socialist! You’re not even a man!”
Writer Tom Piazza contributes an excellent essay in the booklet that accompanies the DVD.
“Vittelonismo” is a 35-minute retrospective documentary created especially for the Criterion DVD. It features comments by two of the cast members, Leopoldo Trieste and Franco Interlenghi, along with the film’s assistant director Moraldo Rossi, Fellini biographer Tullio Kezich and others. Fellini, at the time, was interested in the notion of wasting time, being foolish, and to “find a small truth in that foolishness.” His friends remember that the director was very happy and full of life. He clearly saw a lot of himself in the five main characters.
Also included are a theatrical trailer and a “Stills Gallery” that contains an excellent assortment of production and rare, behind-the-scenes photos with posters and lobby cards.
I Vitelloni is a classic coming-of-age story about five men forced to accept the responsibility that comes with becoming an adult. Fellini realistically captures the universal quality of that stage in life where one is young, full of energy and has no direction in life. These guys try to stretch out that moment of their lives for as long as they can. However, life has other plans for them.