Wednesday, June 6, 2018

I vitelloni

I Vitelloni (aka The Large Calves) (Federico Fellini, 1953) So many films have come down the strada since this one (American Graffiti, Diner) that bear a resemblance to this nicely melancholy collection of stories about the wasted lives of young men that fans of those later Americanized versions will find themselves in cozily familiar (if uncomfortable) terrain. It has become a staple of film makers who have become nostalgic, but just smart enough to see their pasts with the lenses of irony and affectionate smugness.

In a provincial town, there are five men who, post-education and living with their parents, are poised on the edge of putting away childish things and becoming men—and they're doing it as slowly as possible: Alberto (Alberto Sordi) a flamboyant life-of-the-partier, which is fine for him but he's bothered by sister's dalliances with a married man; Riccardo (Riccardo Fellini, the director's brother) is a fine baritone with never-realized dreams of being an entertainer;  Leopoldo (Leopoldo Trieste), the intellectual, has the required "script-in-the-drawer," never published, never performed; the unofficial leader, Fausto (Franco Fabrizi), whom all the others look up to, is an unrepentant womanizer, good at seducing but bad at staying 'til morning; then, there's Moraldo (Franco Interlenghi), the youngest, who observes all the behavior, following in the others' footsteps if not down their paths.
See, there's a problem: Moraldo's sister (Leonora Ruffo), who's just been named "Miss Siren of 1953" at the end-of-Summer bash, is pregnant with Fausto's baby. When she faints after being crowned, the whole town becomes aware of the scandal and Fausto is forced to marry her, then take on a job as a clerk, which he despises. Already, Moraldo's loyalties are divided, between loyalty to family and friends, between fun and responsibility, and right and wrong, and it creates a new perspective from which he observes his friends as they listlessly make their way from Summer to Summer (their season to shine) free, but not care-free...and not entirely rootless. Time goes by, getting by, and all are shown lessons they don't want to learn—about compromise, about self-reliance and duty.  But there's always another party to go to, another prank to pull, another alley to duck into when the going gets uncomfortable. There's no time to lose, as time can't be wasted, only spent.
It's all set to the sad swagger of Nino Rota's perfectly-in-tune score, and it is one of those rare Fellini films that ends with a resolution, rather than a wry shrug. There is hope, and an indelible last image that hangs in the memory (and not because it's freeze-framed) that shows how brilliant Fellini could be when he kept things simple (and he had to on this film, shot over six months, with different cinematographers). The last line is also curious, as it is dubbed, not by the actor, but by Fellini himself. He would insert himself more and more into his films, until they merged, the two indistinguishable for a time, the man and his work, his dreams made real.
Sittin' on the dock of the bay...wastin' time


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