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.
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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