Wednesday, June 24, 2009

DVD Views: I Vitelloni

I Vitelloni (1953) ****
Directed By: Federico Fellini.
Written By: Ennio Flaiano and Federico Fellini.
Starring: Franco Interlenghi (Moraldo), Alberto Sordi (Alberto), Franco Fabrizi (Fausto), Leopoldo Trieste (Leopoldo), Riccardo Fellini (Riccardo), Leonora Ruffo (Sandra), Jean Brochard (Fausto’s father), Claude Farell (Olga, Alberto’s sister), Carlo Romano (Mr. Michele), Enrico Viarisio (Sandra’s father), Paola Borboni (Sandra’s mother).

Watching Martin Scorsese’s My Voyage to Italy, his documentary about the Italian films that inspired him, I was inspired to go out and rent some of the films he mentioned that had somehow eluded me up to this point. The first on the list was Federico Fellini’s I Vitelloni. I am a big fan of Fellini, returning time and again to his films like La Dolce Vita and 8 ½, but somehow I had never got around to seeing this film. I am glad I finally did. Fellini’s film is a masterwork. Most people would view having to watch an old foreign film as something akin to homework, but I Vitelloni feels fresh and alive, even after more than 50 years. It is a film whose echoes you can sense through cinema history since then – not just in Scorsese’s films like Who’s That Knocking at My Door and Mean Streets, but also George Lucas’s American Graffiti, Barry Levinson’s Diner right up to the films of Judd Apatow.

Fellini’s film is about five young men in a small Italian town in the early 1950s. But these young men are not so young anymore – they are all around 30 years old, but you would not know from the way they act. They act as if they are still teenagers, allowing their families to support them, not having any real job or any real ambition. They spend most of their time drinking, shooting pool and hitting on girls. They are, like so many modern American film characters, overgrown man children who have never grown up.

Fausto (Franco Fabrizi) is their leader – the most charming and debonair among them, Fausto never has any problems getting girls. But he gets himself into trouble when he gets Sandra (Leonara Ruffo) pregnant. That is when Fausto decides to do what he does best – leave. His father prevents this only by threatening to beat him. A 30 year old man still scared of his father. So Fausto does the “honorable” thing and marries Sandra. He even gets a job, working as a stock boy in a small antique store. But neither of these things slow him down. He is still as much as a womanizer as ever.

Moraldo, who is Sandra’s brother, is the youngest but most mature of the young men. He doesn’t necessarily know what he wants to do with his life, but he knows he wants something. Alberto (Alberto Sordi) is a hopeless dreamer and a clown, who allows his mother and sister Olga to support him, as he does nothing but sit around and drink. Riccardo (Riccardo Fellini) is a tenor, who holds on to a half hearted dream of singing and acting, although he does nothing to further his ambitions. Leopoldo (Leopoldo Trieste) is the “intellectual” and playwright, who is full of big ideas that he just needs to get out, but no one will listen to him. That they all stay in their small town is the real problem – they are suffocating there, but do not realize it. Why does the Riccardo, who says he wants to sing and act, stay in a town that has no opportunities to do either? Was doe the playwright stay there, when they have no place to put on his plays? They talk about leaving incessantly, but never do. If they did, they might have to grow up.

Fausto makes no real effort to conceal his womanizing. He does it right in front of Moraldo, who as his brother-in-law is offended, but can never quite bring himself to tell anyone in his family about it. When Fausto hits on the wife of his boss, and gets fired over it, it becomes a big thing in the family. But Fausto had to have known that this would happen. After all, the boss is his father-in-laws best friend, and he had to know he would tell on him. I think Fausto did it so he could get caught, and maybe get out of the marriage that was strangling him. But when Sandra finally does decide she has enough, and leaves without telling anyone, Fausto realizes just how much he actually does love her, and the suffering he goes through that day, proves it to Sandra as well. They seem happy at the end of the movie, but I fear it is only a temporary happiness.

Moraldo is the only character who finally decides that he has had enough and leaves on a train to Rome without telling anyone. He sees his friends in his mind sleeping their lives away. Since Moraldo is the character that Fellini based on himself, we know what was to become of him. But what of the other characters? Are they forever trapped in their adolescent dreams and ambitions? Are they ever going to grow up? The films of Judd Apatow have followed similar characters in recent years, and for the most part the movies end well – with the immature male characters growing up and moving forward. For Fellini, he is not so sure. He loves his characters – after all they are based on himself and his friends – but some of them will forever be trapped where they are. Never growing up, no matter how old they get.

No comments:

Post a Comment