I Vitelloni (1953, Federico Fellini)

I’m still figuring out Fellini – his movies seem to fall into categories, but I’m not sure how to define those categories, since it’s been ages since I watched most of them. But however you divide it, I Vitelloni’s portrait of aimless, night-owl youth must sit near La Dolce Vita’s portrait of aimless, night-owl aristocrats. Unlike La Dolce Vita, I didn’t hate all the characters (only most of them). This was Fellini’s second solo feature after The White Sheik, but I’ve also watched four Rossellini movies he co-wrote.

The Guys: womanizing leader Fausto (Franco Fabrizi, also in Ginger & Fred, so maybe the longest-lived Fellini actor), cool Alberto (Sordi, title character in The White Sheik, later star of Mafioso), smarty Leopoldo (Trieste, lead newlywed in The White Sheik, later in A Farewell to Arms), singer Riccardo (the director’s brother), and young Moraldo (Franco Interlenghi, star of Shoeshine and I Vinti).

Fausto knocks up Moraldo’s sister (Leonora Ruffo of Hercules in the Haunted World), reluctantly marries her but keeps sleeping around and can’t keep a job. Leopoldo spends his nights writing a play, which he reads to a famous actor who turns out to be enthusuastic for Leo more than the play. Moraldo mopes around every night, makes friends with a newsboy, seems bewildered by this boy because he has a proper job instead of just fucking around all the time. Finally Moraldo has had it with the movie and leaves town. As his train pulls away from town, the camera pulls past all his sleeping friends, a fun visual touch in an otherwise realistic film.

A sad carnival:

T. Piazza for Criterion:

I Vitelloni marks a big step forward in Fellini’s ability to get deep into his characters’ psychology; it points ahead both to the bitter social satire of La Dolce Vita and to the great canvases of nostalgia and the artist’s nature, 8 1/2, Amarcord — and the neglected late masterpiece Intervista.

Against their narcissism and lassitude is posed the solidity and maturity of the town’s older men, who have assumed the standard responsibilities of middle-class family life. But admirable as they may be, these solid citizens — unimaginative, satisfied with their lot, stuck in claustral interior settings — are hardly made to seem a stimulating alternative, and at the end Moraldo leaves the town’s tape loop of foreclosed possibilities for another arena of possibility in the city.

Allergic to endings that sum things up too neatly, or that resolve in a definitive way the tensions set up in the film, Fellini once remarked, “Our duty as storytellers is to bring people to the station. There each person will choose his or her own train… But we must at least take them to the station… to a point of departure.” It is a striking image, one foreign to many popular storytellers: the ending of a story seen not as an arrival, but rather as a prepared departure. I Vitelloni, of course, brings us literally to the station at its end, with Moraldo’s departure from his provincial town. But on a deep level the film was Fellini’s point of departure, too—the beginning of his important work as a filmmaker, the place where he got serious. And as he made clear at the end of Intervista, the only thing that kept Fellini truly happy was his work; the end of any project was a kind of death, overcome only at the moment at which one was ready to begin again, to try and get it right one more time.

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