Monday, September 06, 2004

I Vitelloni Directed by Federico Fellini

Vitelloni is the Italian word for a young fattened calf or an immature male loafer. Both definitions apply aptly to the Vitelloni of Federico Fellini's 1953 film. The story is of five young men (the Vitelloni) that cruise through life in a small town in Italy. One sings, one romances, one writes, one makes trouble, and one observes. They deal with unexpected pregnancy, marriage, money (or lack thereof), and the ultimate dream - getting away. This is one of the bridge films of Fellini; it came right after 1952's The White Sheik and right before the 1954 film La Strada. In its own right, La Strada is seen as a bridge between the Italian neo-realism of early Fellini and the big top surrealism of later Fellini. But it seems to me that I Vitelloni and La Strada are two halves of the same bridge, with the former belonging to the neo-realist Fellini and the latter belonging to the surrealist. I Vitelloni lacks the beautifully intrusive camerawork, the unconventional plot, and the broken narrative of later Fellini, but it is the first film to carry and fully develop one of his major life-long themes - the growth-stunted male.

Notably, because of its strong ties to the doctrine of neo-realism, I Vitelloni has a much more intimate feel when compared to Fellini's later works such as 8 1/2 or Amarcord. This is the microscopic life of a small town; a place where everyone knows everyone and the audience is allowed to candidly observe. Fellini was only 30 when he made I Vitelloni and, because of that, the film is full of unbridled life. The characters are constantly dancing, singing, and partying - doing everything they can to either avoid their problems or forget they had any problems in the first place. Being 30 also allowed Fellini to delve deeply into the theme of the young man-child. The Vitelloni comprise the major facets of Fellini - his love for music, his penchant for romance and trouble, his artistic side, and, perhaps the most important attribute of a filmmaker, his ability to observe. While all five of his characters occupy a specific niche, none are complete. Moraldo, the observer, while able to see and understand what is going on, is completely unable to comment or affect the situation he is observing. He walks in on his friend Fausto running away from home but is unable to tell him to stop, he sees Leopoldo, the writer, making a fool of himself in front of an esteemed actor, and can do nothing but watch. His child-like innocence and naivete are the result of his being a child still. Fausto, the romancer, cannot commit. He impregnates a young girl (Moraldo's sister) and attempts to run away. Through the heavy-handed persuasion of his father, Fausto marries the girl. Still, he cannot commit - he chases other women until his wife runs away.

Tied into the theme of the 30 yr. Old boy is the compulsory need for the five to get away. They all speak of leaving their small town; by leaving they will get money and with money, they can finally grow up. Of course this is a mirage, a pipe dream. It is true that leaving is the only savior in their situation, but their situation (that of being children trapped in men's bodies) makes it impossible for them to leave. They are tied to their families, their fun, and their dreams - dreams that are too impossible to attempt a realization. But Moraldo has no dreams. It is made clear at the beginning of the film that he is the youngest of the troupe. This is important because, in being the youngest, he is a genuine adolescent - a child without excuses. Because of this, Moraldo can leave. He has not encountered the pseudo-adult life that keeps others tied to their home while wishing only for the outside. And Moraldo does leave. In the next to last shot of the film he boards a train without the knowledge of anyone else sans one person (more on that later.) Moraldo is making a clean break for a new start.

Most of this sounds pretty dour, but I Vitelloni is a film brimming with hope. There is the hope that each character will find their own spot in their small township. And it is not an entirely improbable hope. We do believe that Leopoldo will write plays one day - he just needs to write from his heart, not his mind. We do believe that Fausto will settle down - the last act of the film nearly guarantees it. And it is probable that Moraldo will make it on his own.

The last shot of the film is not of Moraldo's train careering down the tracks and disappearing into the horizon. It is of a boy named Guido walking along the rail of the track in the opposite direction. In every film that he makes Fellini has a character that he cares for deeply, a character that he keeps above the fray of life. In La Strada it is Gelsomina, in 8 1/2 it is Guido, and in I Vitelloni it is this young boy. These characters are directly affected by the actions of others - the fray of life - but they do not partake in it. In the case of the two Guidos, they are alter egos for Fellini - the filmmaker observing the lives around him.

If Moraldo observes everyone, then Guido observes Moraldo. He is the only one that encounters Moraldo during his late night walks, and he is the only character that Moraldo seems to have complete faith in. Most importantly is that Guido sees Moraldo off - he becomes a talisman of sorts that assures a safe journey. And after Moraldo's train leaves, Guido continues. He walks along the rail back towards town, assuring us, and the town, that life will go on.


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