Monday, January 18, 2021

I vitelloni

The Un/Happy'ish Boys

I vitelloni [The Loafers / The Fellas, 1953] is, if not Federico Fellini's darkest film, certainly his most melancholy. Absent are the extreme physical tragedies of Il bidone or Nights of Cabiria; and it's not a crime story per se (a centerpiece robbery aside); is rather a parable about Duty in the face of an acute isolationism. — The pandemic is Rimini itself, the hometown of Fellini. — I vitelloni, one of the most personal films in a body of work that is nothing but eminently intimate, enacts for the Maestro the story of a wish-fulfillment that actually came to pass: that is, an escape from the sticks to the big city and the initiation of a brilliant career in cinema (and cartooning).

The vitelloni are as follows:

• Fausto (Franco Fabrizi)

• Moraldo (Franco Interlenghi)

• Alberto (Alberto Sordi)

• Leopoldo (Leopoldo Trieste)

• Riccardo (Riccardo Fellini, Federico's brother)

Each vitellone is given an episode that corresponds to his talent, aspiration, or personal flaw, although to be sure, the five men (six, in fact, but we'll come back to that shortly) represent a refraction of Fellini himself.

• Fausto: the ostensible candidate for the film's lead. Believes he's owed the world. A potential case study for the notion that the vitelloni's fates are mixed up as much with the remoteness of Rimini as with their parents' generation's own inertia (socio-economically speaking, maybe through no fault of their own) and their survivalist falling-back onto the old Italian morés that impels them to keep constant stock on their children, even belt-whipping them as deemed necessary despite Fausto's being 30 when he receives papa's flagellation. The trigger of the film's storyline is Fausto's impregnating and shotgun-marrying Sandra (Leonora Ruffo) before his libido wanders wide.

• Moraldo: Sandra's brother. The moral conscience of the fellas. It is he who will escape at the end on a train for Rome, after earlier asking himself the central question: "What if I left too?" Galvanized in part by a chance meeting with a young boy named Guido who's setting off for work at the railroad station at three in the morning.

• Alberto: The worse for wear following the carnivale sequence. Loyal to his mother. Perhaps the highest bourgeois of the friends. But an inveterate money-beggar. His sister Olga absconds with a mysterious man who is either leaving his own wife to be with her, or is acting as part-time pimp with Olga in his employ.

• Leopoldo: An aspiring playwright. Has sent his work-in-progress to Signor Natali, a hackish actor whom for whatever reason Leopoldo hangs a future on, perhaps given his Sheik-of-Araby-shaded variety troupe's passing through Rimini. Natali makes a pass at him, and Leopoldo learns a lesson in life.

• Riccardo: An aspiring singer, and the least focused-upon among the group. Performs at the "Miss Mermaid" competition in the film's opening sequence, where Sandra takes home the prize. The resemblance to his brother Federico is startling.

I mentioned a sixth vitellone. This would be the narrator, whose voice belongs to none of the five, but yet who refers to the gang as "we" and "us." Peter Forgacs in his essay in Criterion's Essential Fellini release remarks that we never see this man, but this is not the case — he's only slightly indiscernible. He's the thin man with the black moustache who fills out the five when Fausto has left for his honeymoon. Fellini keeps him in the background of the shots, usually literally blocked. His fate would remain unknown, were it not for his supposing, his cementing, I vitelloni, a voice-off in a picture that announces: "Mine is the body..."



Other writings about Federico Fellini on Cinemasparagus:


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