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Archive for December 18th, 2008

Chapter-6
Second Chance

Agostino would hear none of it. He insisted Immanuel stay with him till he was well enough to continue his journey.  “Why must a child, you are indeed a child, and why must you take up such a hardship?” He replied that he was sent to seek out children whereever in need. He would have said further.
“But you came to Cloud Peak to look up an old man!,”
he cut in with evident relish.
“You are a child too. Otherwise why would you have carved dolls?” Turning to other topics he said in the end he felt in him a kindred spirit. “My father was a carpenter and…”his voice trailed off as if his past  came in a rush. “Oh to be here. As if I am among familiar things.” He held his hand out and asked if he could hold his doll for a while. Shocked Agostino pointed to the welt in each palm that stood out horribly red against his tender skin. He was about to ask but Immanuel said simply ” Oh these are some reminders,- ‘I was wounded in the house of my friends.’
For a week he thought over. Agostino felt pain that such tender age did not leave the child much. On the day of leave-taking he said, “Here take all, each doll I give into your safe keeping. ”Immanuel looked at him searchingly while he added, ”Give them away if that would make you happier.”
Immanuel accepted them and before he left the old man he said, ”You are a good man. Leave it at that.”
Yes, Agostino felt that his age allowed him to let go. As his dolls.
It made him happy.
The End
Season’s Greetings to all my readers. I take time now to express my thanks to the WordPress team who is doing a great job and wish each one of them a great year.

I shall be busy for a while what with shifting house and building our own dream house. I may not be as regular with my posts as I would wish. Anyway let us see.

b.

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I Vitelloni or the young bulls is the third cinematic essay of Federico Fellini and it was a mature work as far as it reconstructed the trends of neorealism in his own personal idiom. At a time when critics tended to look at films dealing with postwar Italy from a Marxian point of view he was neither conservative nor reactionary. He was far too individualistic to look at social reality with labels. His mature films showed his heart was fully engaged in the creative process whether it dealt with social issues or his interior life. Here I am concerned with pre-felliniesque films.  I dare to think his training as a wandering caricaturist helped him to be objective and go to the essence leaving the claptrap of ideology to pamphlets. He learned what he required more from Chaplin than Rosselini. The social conscience of Chaplin was clothed in melodrama while his characters showed his own. It is pertinent to remember that his films in the early period are more autobiographical than derived from books of others. Between I vitelloni of 1953 and Amarcord of 1973 we can see certain characterisitics that show Fellini at his best. The first is a group caricature of four layabouts in a stifling beach town. It could well be Rimini from where Fellini escaped for Rome in the Thirties. In that sleepy provincial town the social stagnation that enervate I vitelloni has to do much with the economic distress of the post war Italy. Whereas Amarcord traces the rise of fascism in the way of behavior of a few of the town’s inhabitants. Unlike Chaplin who created the Tramp more as a peg to place his genius, Fellini was more in the tradition of a storyteller. His characters are there to delineate themselves and masks they wear are as such we all wear in the growing pains of finding our feet as and when needed. Alberto lives with his mother as Fausto is under the thumb of his feisty father. Alberto( Alberto Sordi) has no qualms of living off his sister but he makes it a point to show he is the man of the house. Fausto (Franco Fabrizi) on the other hand impregnates his friend’s sister and yet finds excuses for not doing the right thing. All these characters are other selves of Fellini who bear the torch lit by his personal vision. Antonia Shanahan, in senses of cinema, July 2002 writes thus, ‘As a veteran of the scripting team responsible for two exemplars of Italian neorealism, Roma città aperta and Paisà (both Roberto Rossellini, 1945 and ’46), Fellini was interested in moving toward a “cinema of Reconstruction.” After Paisà, he redefined his artistic credo to “looking at reality with an honest eye – but any kind of reality; not just social reality, but also spiritual reality, metaphysical reality, anything man has inside him.” ‘(1)( Federico Fellini, “The Road Beyond Neo-Realism, ” in Fellini, “La Strada”: Federico Fellini, Director, ed. Peter Bondanella and Manuela Gieri,-New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1987, p.217.)
Fellini showed his genius in such films as Nights of Cabiria, La Strada and La Dolce Vita.

I Vitelloni follows the lives of five young vitelloni, or layabouts, and when the film opens the tourist season has come to an end with the choosing of the summer’s Miss Sirene. It begins with the end of summer, the “vitelloni” introduced in a long, narrated tracking-shot (clearly the inspiration for a similar scene in Goodfellas, and much emulated since.) In the ensuing excitement of the locals who predict great things for the newly crowned Miss Sirene, Fellini uses her innocence and trustful nature to show how the stifling provincialism has already claimed one victim. She (Leonora Ruffo) is the sister of one of the ‘vitelloni’. Moraldo has none of the qualities that make Fausto seem the undisputed leader of the group. As the film progresses we see the characters change their positions. Fausto’s supposedly leadership is shallow as he is unable to raise to the demands made on him. He is the first to leave for Rome but he comes back without being able to succeed there. While Sandra adores her husband and is blissfully unaware of his philandering nature. A telling scene in the cinema hall reveals to the viewer what she does not see. At the end of the episode we see her afraid and she may not have caught him out but she knows he has already gone astray. Far more serious is the way Fausto loses his secure job. He is able to lull his wife and his friend into believing a lie but we know that he would put his marriage into jeopardy sooner or later. Fausto has fallen from his position of adoration to one who is need of correction. Here we see Sandra and Moraldo show much more mettle in facing upto the reality. Shedding her starry eyed admiration for a feckless husband she is able to transform her credulity into a resolute strength. In the end she is able to make Fausto toe the line and behave responsibly. Meanwhile the would-be playwright Leopoldo (Leopoldo Trieste) continues to work on plays that are unplayable and Alberto (Alberto Sordi) who has taken on himself to keep the family honor in tact is helpless to stop his sister, Olga (Claude Farell), from eloping with her lover. Ultimately Moraldo breaks free from his self-imposed paralysis and moves on, leading to one of the most poignant farewell sequences in film history.
I Vitelloni was a hit in Italy upon its release, and it established his reputation as a filmmaker of world class. By the way the title became a part of Italian vernacular.
Fellini’s alter ego Moraldo we shall see in La Dolce Vita where he is of course called Marcello Rubini. I Vitelloni includes some of his most subtle filmmaking and most personal material. Loosely structured and oddly narrated, I Vitelloni is also an insightful and accurate representation of Italy in the immediate postwar period, full of references to the massive social changes underway. Fifty years after its release it is seen as a seminal film in Italian cinema.
Similar Movies
American Graffiti (1973, George Lucas)
Mean Streets (1973, Martin Scorsese)
We All Loved Each Other So Much (1975, Ettore Scola)
Basilischi (1963, Lina Wertmüller)
Amici Miei (1975, Mario Monicelli)
The Last Kiss (2001, Gabriele Muccino)
Y Tu Mamá También (2001, Alfonso Cuarón)
After Freedom (2002, Vahe Babaian)
25 Watts (2001, Juan Pablo Rebella, Pablo Stoll)
Movies with the Same Personnel
Ginger and Fred (1986, Federico Fellini)
The White Sheik (1952, Federico Fellini)
Intervista (1987, Federico Fellini)
La Dolce Vita (1960, Federico Fellini)
Fellini’s Roma (1972, Federico Fellini)
Nights of Cabiria (1957, Federico Fellini)
The Flowers of St. Francis (1950, Roberto Rossellini)
Nestore l’ultima corsa (1994, Alberto Sordi)
Ack: brightlights.com-Megan Ratner, all movie- Elbert Ventura
and senses of cinema)

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Chapter-5
Enter Immanuel

Winter was well underway and Agostino felt it all too keenly. His blanket was no longer adequate and with another thrown over it just about prevented him from freezing to death at nights. On evenings a warm fireplace with logs crackling in a blazing fire made him stare away from goblins of boredom. It became a constant struggle to attend to his daily needful things. He knew his age had finally caught up with him. He was old and worn out.
To be old and with so many hurts still unattended to took their toll: it made him perpetually sour and angry.
The more he glanced at his past, all those little hurts became more insolent and seemed to outstare him. When he was rough and ready he was relieved off his trusty axe. Why? He thought it made mock of his muscular strength.
“Oh I was young and strong of nerves to swing an axe”, his mind was ready with an excuse. ”But did you get a woman, a helpmate for all that fire in your blood?” No why? He was slowly building a cage about him and creepers with thorns were blocking the quietness of his existence. The Cloud Peak was beoming drab and dry!
No more he could bear to look at his dolls. It brought up his old annoyances again. Now and then he saw some children taking a peek into the house and scurry away in fright. They were still frightened of him. Even when he would have made peace it was not possible. The dolls were now ruined beyond repair.

Whenever weather permitted him he would cautiously step out and meet other folks to catch up with news; he took time out to attend a few funerals and visit the houses of mourning. From casual talks it was apparent those children who were once regular visitors to his house had gone each in his own way. Some were away in the fields, or in the mines; some had joined up in vessels or as apprentices to some tradesmen. A few like Polybus and Ciprian had joined with their fathers. Well Agostino could understand they were past the age of playing with the dolls. He had nothing to do with their going away. Yet whenever he looked at his dolls with this new understanding he didn’t feel at ease.
His dolls remained still ruined.
Being old his sleep was light; and one night he heard  scratching sounds that a cat would make on wood while filing its claws. He lit a candle and walked to the door.
To his amazement a little boy stood outside his head flaked still with soft snow. It had just began falling. He hurriedly opened the door wide urging him to to come in. The boy, hardly thirteen and shivering a little stumbled in. His clothes were spotted with slush; and his knuckles, the old man could see, were almost blue from cold. Agostino felt pity that he had not reckoned for guests lodging for the night. It was such nights as these his solitary existence showed its nothingness. He revived the fire, which blazed new with a whimper. Thereafter he was on the run to fetch his best blanket to wrap over him. The boy still held on to his valise which was light and he smiled weakly to say his name. ‘Immanuel’, he said. Agostino nodded even as he put some water to boil. Next he handed over his own shirt that was too large for the child. It was at least dry and its coarse weave could keep the cold out. Agostino breathlessly attended to his comfort as best as he could.
Soon a warm broth revived the boy who would have spoken but the old man shushed him and showed the alcove where a bed was fitted. The child weak as he was slumped and let the host tuck him for the night. Immediately he fell asleep. Agostino was not surprised: the boy was faint with cold and harshness of his travel.
He walked across and knocked at the door of the weaver whom among other neighbours had shown him proof of friendliness more often. Though unaccustomed to ask favours he flew to him. It was emergency. So much the weaver could well gather as Agostino mumbled his want. Instantly he fetched a loaf of bread and gave it to him. Silently he took off.
Agostino went tiptoe and hearing his steady breath he
let out a sigh of satisfaction. He knew the boy was none the worse for hazarding out in such a cold night. Silently he placed the coarse bread near his head.
“What is the mystery?” he asked himself as he went to lie in his bed. He just lay still unable to sleep.
When he had woken up he saw the soft morning sun swept half across the rush mat that lay in front of his bed. He had overslept! Quickly he went over to the next room. Immanuel had eaten off half his loaf of bread and he had arrayed the dolls on the bed and he was lost in thoughts with same expression he had often seen in those kids from the neighbourhood.
The doll-maker winced as the child squealed in pleasure. “This is marvellous!” The host was apologetic and in the face of such innocent expression his words trailed in despair. As far as he had seen they were a sorry lot callously reminding of a sorry episode.

The news had meanwhile reached into every nook and corner of that village. The folks had something to chew about. A strange boy had come in search of his father. They had heard from children of some dark secret that made the odd jobs man a queer body. What Ambrose, the imbecile had once bandied about revived. So the dark secret of the doll-maker was true after all!
A few children who had never been inside went to the cottage. To their astonishment a total stranger now had those dolls. He played as natural as though he owned them! They stood there mystified.
Immanuel broke off in the middle of his game and looked up to the children. He with a nod invited them over and soon they were into the swim of things as though their fantasies were one, made evenly matched by their innocence. Even when the host came in they simply continued with their ‘doll watching.’
Agostino made peace with children most of them he had never seen them before. And they, were under his roof as though they rightly belonged there, and accepted what was proffered and ate. They continued with their play.
The old man quickly made himself scarce in order to encourage children a clear field. On the fourth day Immanuel stopped as he made for the door and said,” We are among friends. Aren’t we?” He looked at those children who nodded in agreement. They never before had seen dolls so close. They looked at their host as though scales were dropped from their eyes. In their eyes they knew he was a harmless old man who were possessed with some uncommon gifts. In the presence of a child who sweetly played with the dolls the children knew the doll-maker was a wizard who could make his dolls so endearing. Did Immanuel by his sweet disposition clear the air as it were, or they were natural to believe only what their eyes had seen?
Agostino was going through some turmoil and he excused himself to prepare for the supper. Later in the evening, after the table was cleared the boy sat down waiting. He instinctively seemed to guess at something: What troubled the old man? He asked and Agostino in a tremulous voice that betrayed his troubled mind admitted he was sorry for his life spent foolishly creating some dolls. Ashamed he broke off to ask instead what made him set out through that rough terrain at such time of the year. By the candlelight, the face of the boy had something of an angel surrounded by the aura of innocence.
He replied, ”I came to see you.”
Agostino took a double take. His expression remained clear and sweet as he explained, ”I heard your name while I was in the fields; and during my voyage I heard some boys speak of you with the same affection. Glaucus and Felix are from these parts. You know the children  of the stone mason?” Agostino shook his head.
“Of course Ambrose you know,?” Immanuel persisted,”- and he was the cabin boy who attended me and we got around to talk. At one point he said how happy he was once. He was evidently homesick. And you know what he said next? ‘How those dolls made me feel whole and complete!’ The way he said it, he has some strange way of expressing himself,- nevertheless it was convincing, and it made me curious. So many others, why they look back to some dolls with longing and regrets? In all of them, without any exception, your dolls were so impacted. Why I wanted to know?”
Agostino could not believe. He never had thought his handiwork meant to another as much as it was for him. Neither could he imagine those dolls would have rounded off the childhood of any to perfection. In him what loomed large was his quarrel. Whereas his dolls meant something far more than he had imagined.
In short he and the boy seemed to be talking of altogether two different things!
Immanuel with a hand on his arm restrained him.
“You are a good man. So I wanted to come and tell you myself,” After turning towards the dolls, ”and of course see them myself.”
“These dolls are ruined!” Agostino shook up in sobs. He cried and he didn’t try to stop. The presence of the boy made it all seem so natural.
Before turning in for the night Immanuel set each doll on the work bench and setting Safiah against Deborah side by side he said casually, ”See these two have kissed and made up!” He made each doll kiss one another as though those dolls had a life of their own! Agostino looked on with ‘a wild surmise’ as the poet would say.
Some strange thought seemed to rake up the turmoil within and smoothen it once more. He felt joy welling, something new. It was truly felt.
These dolls were no more ruined than he was! In the presence of the boy his handiwork had broken the lie and showed things in their true order: What he did for those children was beyond himself and beyond every lie. He had
given to their drab childhood, a shine that no dark cloud ever massing over their lives could quite erase. A silver lining.
He felt elated.
That night he slept soundly as if nothing ever troubled his mind.

(to be cont’d)

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