Directed by Federico Fellini; Written by Federico Fellini and Ennio Flaiano
Real life comes with the dawn.
How we develop as individuals against the trajectories of friends and family is an evergreen story. It’s an inevitable rite of passage, and however the circumstances may change, the emotional powers at play remain the same. Fellini’s story of a group of manchildren, and the outward bound dreamer in their midst, sees clear to the core of anyone who ever struck out for more, and handles the passage with grace, compassion and his trademarked sense of bittersweet joie de vivre.
Five men waste their days away in a small Italian town, boozing, promenading, hanging out, and wheedling money from relatives to keep it all going. Anything that keeps introspection at bay. Quietly observing his friends’ antics is Moraldo (Franco Interlenghi) who takes it in with resigned interest.
Fausto, so-called leader of the group and incurable womanizer, gets Moraldo’s sister pregnant, reluctantly weds her at gunpoint, and takes a job. But old habits are hard to break. Meanwhile, Alberto relies on his mother and sister for support, and when the latter moves away, he seems ready to break under the responsibility he must assume. Life comes at you fast.
I Vitelloni comes early in Fellini’s career, but casts its shadow deep into his later masterpieces. The ennui-ridden observer of Moraldo can recognize himself in La Dolce Vita’s Marcello and 8 ½’s Guido, and those same films’ bittersweet parties and theatrical extravagance are matched by the stunning carnival scene that the entire town of I Vitelloni turns out for. Add to that the eco-societal awareness that also infuses La Strada and Nights of Cabiria, and I Vitelloni becomes a potent sampling of the artistic attitude and execution that Fellini would later perfect.
I Vitelloni does not endear itself to the viewer, and its characters are impossible to embrace, as their many sins range from naivete and immaturity to downright narcissism, and Fellini struggles to give Moraldo enough weight to properly center the story around, as his inexplicable passivity demotes this central character whose VO narrates the proceedings to just that: a narrator.
Still, the film will dazzle with high-energy spectacle, upset with human immorality and move with the emotional outpourings of characters learning life the hard way. Because as the would-be men learn, real life comes with the dawn.