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cinemaspeak59

I VITELLONI (1953)

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Federico Fellini's I Vitelloni still charms. It's spirit of independent cinema has influenced directors such Barry Levinson, (who modeled 1982's Diner after it), Martin Scorsese, Richard Linklater, Noah Baumbach and Whit Stillman.

The film captures a certain poetic ordinariness in the lives of its aimless, ambition-free characters (called vitelloni in the vernacular). The group's leader, the philandering Fausto, (Franco Fabrizi) appears to have learned his lesson at film's end.  But everything about him hints he'll dutifully attend to his wife and baby before boredom soon sets in, and it won't be long before he resumes chasing women and making his wife miserable.

The fun-loving Alberto (the great Alberto Sordi), hides the pain from his breadwinner sister running away with a married man, leaving Alberto and his saintly mother to fend for themselves. Alberto promises to find a job, not easy for someone allergic to work.

Riccardo (Riccardo Fellini, brother of the director), hangs in the periphery, with dreams of singing, but mostly he just goes with the flow. The lovable Leopoldo, (Leopoldo Trieste) with aspirations of being a famous dramatist, looks destined to keep scribbling away in obscurity, perhaps marrying his next-door neighbor, and confident his next play will pack the theaters of Rome and Milan.

We have Moraldo, (Franco Interlenghi) the film's conscience, full of goodwill, at the end boarding a train, off to who knows where, kissing off the small provincial town.  I picture Moraldo biding his time, settling in a big city for a while, and with a decent chance of eventually returning home.

And how about the sweet, good-natured young G+uido (G+uido Martufi), who works at the train station? The film closes poignantly with him waving goodbye to his friend Moraldo. Who knows what life has in store, but I believe he'll fare the best.

Lastly, there's the seaside town that serves as the setting. It's supposed to be Rimini, Fellini's birthplace, a place Fellini had enormous affection for before, like Moraldo, leaving. (Fellini would revisit his past in 1973's brilliant Amarcord). I Vitelloni has dazzling imagery and sound, from the heady nighttime streets, to the giddy masquerade ball, to the howling wind blowing in from the water. And it would be gross negligence not to mention Nino Rota's hypnotic score.

If one wanted to experience the Rome of Fellini's La Dolce Vita, it would be rather hard.  The Via Veneto and Trevi Fountain are still there, but the optimism of 1960 has been replaced by a world-weary anxiety (captured in 2013's The Great Beauty). But the vitelloni, those cool dudes, one can find them if you want to.  They can be seen in the provinces of Torino, Naples, Catania and throughout Italy. These young men will be dressed to the nines, walking the streets, flirting with women, and lounging in their favorite cafe. They'll chronicle everything on social media, blessed with the conviction that tomorrow, they'll land that job, open up that restaurant, or get cast in that movie. 

I always debate myself where I Vitelloni ranks in the Fellini canon. Suffice to say, it's one of his most essential and best films.

 

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