Monday, November 2, 2015

Slacker Cinema

Film: I Vitelloni
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

There are films out there that wield a tremendous amount of influence in the cinematic world. Halloween, for instance, is single-handedly responsible for a number of horror movie and slasher tropes just by way of example. I’d been told that I Vitelloni carries that same sort of responsibility; it’s basically the first movie about young slackers ever made. In that respect, I was curious to see it. On the other hand, this is a film by Federico Fellini, and I’ve almost always been underwhelmed by Fellini in the past. Oh, I see the talent; I just don’t always like the movie. In the case of something like Satyricon, I don’t even really see the talent.

That said, I Vitelloni really is slacker cinema. We have a group of five young men in a small coastal Italian town who spend their days mostly doing nothing but wishing they could do something else. The leader of the group is Fausto (Franco Fabrizi), a womanizer who has managed to get the sister of Moraldo (Franco Interlenghi) pregnant. Most of the film comes from the point of view of Moraldo, or at least he is our narrator, and in the case of this film, the surrogate for Fellini.

The others in the group are the singer Alberto (Alberto Sordi), who deals with a sister having an affair with a married man; Leopoldo (Leopoldo Vannucci), a budding playwright; and Ricardo (Ricardo Fellini, the director’s brother), a dreamer who wants to be on the stage. We get the sense that their lives have not been too much different for years, but the pregnancy of Moraldo’s sister Sandra (Leonora Ruffo) changes things. Fausto is essentially forced into a marriage with Sandra, although this does not cure his womanizing. He takes a job at the behest of his new father-in-law, but rebels against it mainly by attempting to seduce his new boss’s wife.

Eventually, everything comes to a head during a carnival. All five of the young men experience something traumatic or life changing which results in significant changes for both Fausto and Moraldo. The other three appear to be essentially unchanged.

And this is where I heave a giant sigh. I have to admit that with the possible exception of Amarcord, this Fellini film is one that I appreciate the most compared with all of his other films that I’ve seen. But at the same time, like a lot of other slacker films, it feels pretty lightweight and about kind of nothing. In a way, that’s kind of the point. Both Fausto and Moraldo grow up by the end of the film and appear ready to take on life as adults while Ricardo, Leopoldo, and Alberto seem to have stayed in that place of arrested development.

I wish there was more here, though. I can see why this is an attractive film for people, because it does seem to be a stage that all of us go through at one time or another, or at least most of us do. Films like Diner and The Last Picture Show touch on very much the same basic idea. Most of us were disaffected youth at one point, dreaming about how we might someday change the world until most of us realize that life is made to be lived and we end up doing something else. There’s a nostalgia for this time, but at the same time, a realization that such a period is really a true measure of wastefulness and that we do need to grow out of it.

The truth is, though, that while I do like this more than I have liked most Fellini films, I don’t have a great deal to say about it. It’s worth commenting on the title, I suppose. Essentially, “vitelloni” translates as “large veal calves.” It’s a good title. The five young men are basically children in adult bodies. They have no responsibilities and no cares except that they wish they had more. I didn’t get the title at first, but with the film watched, it’s a fantastic title.

So, ultimately, I liked this and I can see its influence on the world of cinema that followed it. I just wish that there was more here to comment on.

Why to watch I Vitelloni: It really does have a lot of influence on modern cinema.
Why not to watch: It’s still Fellini.


  1. I'm pretty sure I saw this one because it was on the TSPDT list. It didn't do much for me because I didn't really give a damn what happened to any of them so the story didn't engage me. It's interesting what you write about its influence. I didn't think of it at the time.

    1. I'm not sure I'd have noticed the influence without being specifically told of it. Once that idea is there, though, it's easy to see.

  2. Personally, I would move the "it's Fellini" into the pro column! I understand he's not to everybody's taste though. I have no idea why I connect so well to his collection of oddballs but I do. I did want to strangle Fausto throughout the film however.

    1. I understand why people like Fellini. I just don't in general. This is one of the reasons I don't get on the case of people who, for instance, say they don't like Bergman or the Coens even though I really do.