I Vitelloni (1953): Top Fellini

“I Vitelloni” was the first Federico Fellini film to get international distribution. The tale concerns five young men growing up together in a small-town on the Adriatic coast, who must each face their future, deciding whether to settle down in the dullness of their small-town or to leave for the big city.


“I Vitelloni” literally means ‘big calves” in Italian, which Fellini uses to describe idle young men without occupations who refuse to grow up and are supported by parents, relatives and friends. The term could also be translated as the “big loafers” or the “overgrown teenagers.”

 

The five vitelloni are first seen marching through the streets. The intellectual Leopoldo is an amateur playwright. Alberto lives with his sister, who is involved with a married man. Riccardo is a talented tenor. Moraldo, the youngest of the group, is an amiable dreamer. His sister, Sandra, is romantically involved with the womanizer Fausto, who’s the group’s leader.

 

Fellini elaborated on his characters: “They are the unemployed of the middle-class, mothers’ pets. They shine during the holiday season, and waiting for it takes up the rest of the year.”

 

Sandra discovers she is pregnant. Fausto, the father-to-be, immediately tries to skip town. His father catches him and forces him to marry Sandra. While they are away honeymooning, the other vitelloni roam around town, shooting pool and chasing women. On the couple’s return, Fausto’s father-in-law gets him a job at a local shop. He soon returns to his womanizing ways and is fired for making a move on the boss’s wife.

 

News of his behavior reaches Sandra but Moraldo saves his friend’s reputation by lying. Shortly after, Sandra gives birth. Fausto slips up again and this time Moraldo can’t find an excuse for it. Sandra leaves, taking the baby with her. Fausto eventually finds her and declares himself a changed man. In the closing scene, Moraldo leaves town in search of a better life in the middle of the night. One of the vitelloni finally leaves the nest.

 

The film’s themes of coming-of-age and male initiation into adulthood, with all the pains, sorrows, and the rituals involved, predate such classic American films as George Lucas’ “American Graffiti” (1973) and Barry Levinson’s “Diner” (1982). “I Vitelloni” was a major inspiration for Scorsese’s third film, “Mean Streets,” in 1973, because, as he noted, “it captures the bittersweet emotions of a moment that eventually comes for everyone: the moment you realize you can either grow up, or stay forever a child.”


 In “I Vitelloni,” Fellini begins to be concerned with a major theme, which crops up in his later films, that the world is a circus. In one segment the character Alberto attends a masquerade ball dressed as a woman. Fellini’s fascination with the conflict between masks we wear in society and our hidden selves is evident here. He wants to find out what goes on backstage at our circus.


However, the film’s look is nothing like Fellini’s later circus-like films. For the most part it is a typical neo-realist film. In Fellini’s later films, the symbolic and stylistic elements completely take over, neo-realism becoming surrealism.


The scholar Peter Bondanella has correctly pointed out that “I Vitteloni continues today to be one of Fellini’s most popular works in Italy precisely because it has revealed after five decades its authenticity as a wonderfully accurate portrait of daily life in the country’s small towns just before the impact of the economic miracle and the transition of the peninsula to a modern industrial nation.”

Oscar Nominations: 1

Story and Screenplay (Original): Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, and Tullio Pinelli

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner of Original Screenplay was shockingly George Wells for Designing Woman (which was actually a remale of the 1942 Tracy-Hepburn comedy, Woman of the Year).


Short Bio

 

Fellini was born to a farming and trading family in the coastal town of Rimini, in 1920. As a young man, he wound up in Rome and tried to become a journalist. Fellini began his film career in the Italian neo-realist movement, which started at the end of World War II. He collaborated with Roberto Rossellini on the screenplays for “Open City” (1946) and ”Paisan” (1946). Eventually, Fellini was to become the best-known Italian filmmaker outside of his country, a result of the huge success of “La Dolce Vita,” “81/2,” “Amarcord,” and many other masterpieces.

 

Credits

 

Running Time: 104 minutes