I vitelloni (1953)


(director/writer: Federico Fellini; cinematographers: Carlo Carlini/Otello Martelli/Luciano Trasatti; editor: Rolando Benedetti; music: Nino Rota; cast: Eleonora Ruffo (Sandra Rubini), Franco Interlenghi (Moraldo Rubini), Alberto Sordi (Alberto), Franco Fabrizi (Fausto Moretti), Leopoldo Trieste (Leopoldo), Riccardo Fellini (Riccardo), Jean Brochard (Fausto’s father), Claude Farell (Olga, sister of Alberto), Enrico Viarisio (Mr. Rubini), Paola Borboni (Mrs. Rubini), Lida Baarowa (Giulia Curti), Carlo Romano (Michele Curti), Silvio Bagolini (Giudizio, idiot fisherman); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jacques Bar/Mario De Vecchi/Lorenzo Pegoraro; Criterion Collection, The; 1953-Italy-in Italian with English subtitles)

“This is one of Fellini’s best character studies and films.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The third feature of Federico Fellini (“La Strada”/”La Dolce Vita”/”Juliet of the Spirits”) as solo director, after his 1950 “Variety Lights” and 1951 “The White Sheik,” was this engaging neorealism autobiographical comedy drama. Later on Fellini abandoned this successful style of filmmaking for his more pretentious fantasy films stuffed with excesses.

I Vitelloni (is the slang term for wiseass youths, literally translated as “the overgrown calves”) earned Fellini for the first time international recognition. It features five good-for-nothing layabouts in their late twenties, all unemployed, who hang around the provincial Italian seaport of Rimini (in 1973 Fellini returned to his hometown for his comeback film Amarcord) and sponge of their middle-class folks. While living at home they play pool, chase girls, play practical jokes and spend aimless days. They seem trapped by their corruptibility and the town’s dead-end prospects.

One of the loafers, the worst bum of the lot, Fausto Moretti (Franco Fabriz), knocks up the recent beauty pageant winner, Miss Siren, Sandra Rubini (Eleonora Ruffo), and their respective families arrange for their marriage. Sandra’s brother Moraldo (Franco Interlenghi, the young boy from Shoeshine) is part of the loafer crew but more serious than the others; the others are the aspiring singer Riccardo (Riccardo Fellini, the director’s brother), the mama’s boy Alberto Sordi (Alberto Sordi), and the aspiring writer Leopoldo (Leopoldo Trieste).

Fausto takes up most of the camera time, as his father-in-law gets him a clerk job with his best friend, the owner of a small antique store (Carlo Romano). The unreliable and womanizing Fausto eventually gets canned after the boss catches him making a pass at his wife.

The boys live it up at a carnival ball, Alberto has one of cinema’s great long drunken scenes as he’s walked home by a concerned Moraldo, and there’s a mixture of gaiety and disappointment found on a visit to see a second-rate vaudeville troupe. By the conclusion, only Moraldo, Fellini’s alter ego, realizes that remaining in the small town will lead to an empty life and leaves by train for an unknown destination. The final shot is of a young boy, who works for the railroad and is thereby more responsible than the gang of five, waving goodbye to Moraldo and then balancing himself on the railroad tracks. For the rest of the gang it’s a loss of innocence and rites of passage tale, as each is forced to come to terms with their pipe dreams and their wastrel life. But we can see already that they are too cowardly to take a chance and leave their hometown.

This is one of Fellini’s best character studies and films. Nino Roto provides a memorable bouncy musical score to the bleak story.