‘I Vitelloni’: Early Fellini with glimmers of his magic touch
Federico Fellini’s second solo feature, I Vitelloni, is set in an Italian seaside town and delves into the lifestyles of five young men all at separate crossroads. However, and I will say this right off the bat, I Vitelloni isn’t a character study – the film studies Italian society through the perspective of each young man. Nevertheless, there is a lead character with a story arc; Fausto (Franco Fabrizi) a womaniser who seduces a beauty pageant winner and impregnates her. He doesn’t feel ready to become a father yet, so he attempts to run away from provincial life, only for the young lady’s father to force Fausto into a shotgun wedding. I Vitelloni then follows Fausto’s remaining friends as they wander the small town, day after day.
On the surface, I Vitelloni is an aimless film with an autobiographical twist to it. Fellini grew up in Rimini, a city off the coast of the Adriatic sea, so there’s no doubt that Fellini experienced the same frustrations as the characters do in I Vitelloni. Each of Fausto’s four friends want to break away from trivial resort life and follow their dreams – Leopoldo (Leopoldo Trieste) is an aspiring playwright, Alberto (Alberto Soldi) is the daydreamer, Riccardo (Ricardo Fellini) pursues acting and singing for a living, and Moraldo (Franco Interlenghi) is the baby of the four and the black sheep – he is the only one who is uncomfortable with Fausto’s womanising behaviour.
As much as I love Fellini and his body of work, I Vitelloni is a simple Neo-Realist tale. Perhaps his most simplistic film to date. Sadly, I couldn’t connect or relate to Fausto and his comrades. The problem is that each of the five characters are indistinguishable as a whole. Yes, they all want to pursue their dreams, but they are insufferable towards everyone in the seaside community. It’s precisely Fellini’s intention to place arrogant young men in a civilised town. These characters were never designed to be likeable from the start (the title, I Vitelloni, is derived from an Italian insult implying “an immature or lazy person”). However, Fellini doesn’t give the pack of friends a great deal of depth, they are all equal in their wants and needs. Therefore, I found it very hard to get invested in the picturesque world of I Vitelloni. Dare I say it, this is the only time that I’ve found a Federico Fellini film to be dry and boring.
I hate being dismissive but with early Fellini masterpieces like La Strada or Nights of Cabiria, there is a strong threat or conflict in place; Anthony Quinn’s strongman treats Gelsomina like dirt in La Strada, and as for Nights of Cabiria, Maria desires true love in a cynical world only to find heartbreak. I Vitelloni lacks threat whilst the conflict is minimal, the only sense of conflict is mild arguing between one of the vitelloni and the townsfolk. But my opinion doesn’t reflect on the beloved reception of the film. The final half-an-hour is home to many Fellini-esque vignettes that are lovely to watch; one of the friends insults construction workers on the back of a pick-up truck, and then the vehicle breaks down in bittersweet karma. Another scene sees Fausto steal an angel statue from his ex-boss. Fausto enlists the loyal Moraldo for the job, both plotting to sell the statue to a Buddhist monk. There are scenes in I Vitelloni that are playful in the traditional Fellini sense, and these sequences are tucked away at the backend of the film which is a reward in of itself.
Cultfilms have lovingly presented a crisp Blu Ray restoration of I Vitelloni. The only extra is video essay by Guido Bonsaver, titled Becoming Fellini, which dissects I Vitelloni’s core themes. The video essay is very helpful as it makes for an intelligent and insightful bookend. I Vitelloni brims with confidence, Fellini crafts a very handsome looking film and Nino Rota’s score is memorable and exquisite. However, I Vitelloni is simply too black-and-white for my liking. Nonetheless, Cultfilms have got more Fellini releases in the pipeline, Juliet of the Spirits is set for a Blu-Ray debut in a matter of weeks. For a company to care this much over completing a celebrated director’s filmography, Cultfilms show masses of promise. Let’s hope more films by this wonderful filmmaker get the same treatment.