Watching La Dolce Vita on the big screen left me wanting more…so I watched I Vitelloni, one of Fellini’s earliest films. A commercial and critical success, the quasi-autobiographical movie follows a year in the life of a group of young men in a small town on the Adriatic coast. The film is well- known for capturing the post-war social shift; here, Fellini illustrates wonderfully the uncertain role of these men in society and within their families. Fellini is candid in his portrayal of the young men, coddled by mothers, aunts, and sisters (who provide moral guidance and financial support) and despised by the older men who despair their lack of a moral core. These young men represent a different kind of Fellini clown – sad and desperate creatures who mask their uncertainty and frustration with ribald humor and excessive preening – for each other and for women. A highly entertaining narrative with the bite of social commentary, my first impression was that it was not very “Fellini-esque:” the swelling score, the romantic portrayal of small town life, with nary a flashback or a dream in sight. But halfway through the film, we are taken through the big town carnival from decadence to dawn when it dies down to a close-up of a giant head of a clown. You cannot help but nod knowingly toward his seminal films in the 1960’s, when change really was turbulent.
I Vitelloni. Dir. Federico Fellini. Cité Films, 1953. In Italian.