Criterion's newest title is an early Fellini film, I Vitelloni. This semi-autobiographical movie was the Italian director's third feature, and though it is not as good as some of his more famous films, it is still an amazing piece of work.
Taking place over the course of a year, I Vitelloni is the story of five friends who, though they are in their 30's, are still living at home. They don't have jobs, are not interesting in getting any, and exist by sponging off of their parents and siblings. This group of slackers goes through life drinking and womanizing, with little thought for tomorrow. Early in the film one of the group, Fausto, finds out that he has gotten Sandra, the sister of his friend Moraldo, pregnant. Forced by his father to marry Sandra, Fausto moves in with his wife's family, and his father-in-law arranges a job for his new son.
Married life doesn't suit the care free Fausto though, he continues to chase women, and feels trapped in his job while all of his friends are still single and free. The group doesn't see it that way though, in a lot of ways they envy Fausto's stability and the fact that he's starting his life with a his wife and child.
Eventually Fausto can't take it any more and in a self destructive moment tries to seduce his boss' wife. When the boss finds out, Fausto is naturally fired. Irritated at this turn of events, Fausto convinces Moraldo to help him steal a valuable statue from his former employer. Which only serves to make his situation worse.
I really enjoyed watching this film. I found it amazing, but realistic, that these characters don't even realize how empty their lives are. Fausto doesn't even feel a pang of guilt when he leaves his pregnant wife in the middle of a movie to attempt to seduce the woman sitting next to him. Later, when Fausto's friends attempt to help him his wife, they are more interesting in where to eat than where Sandra has run off to.
The film is very well paced. It is basically a series of vignettes, little slices of life for this group of friends. This format allows the viewer to see how little there is in the main character's lives, and how they are ruled by inertia. They can't break out of their lazy habits because it is too easy to just continue coasting through life. Though they talk about getting out of the small city they live in and doing something with their lives, they never do.
The main problem I had with this film was the script. It was a little weak in places, and I couldn't quite understand Moraldo's motivation through most of the film. Why doesn't he stay by Fausto's side though he know's that he is an adulterous thief? Other characters were even less developed, with some of the main group hardly having any lines at all. It was often hard for me to distinguish one character from another, and the fact that they kept on changing their facial hair doesn't help.
This movie doesn't have the Fellini style that his later films would display, and is shot in a more traditional fashion. It is still very effective though, mixing humor and drama to create a believable world for these men to inhabit. The last scene where you see all five members of the group early in the morning is a great way to end the film. It closes off the narrative, while leaving the viewer to imagine what occurs next in each of their lives.
This film is presented with a digital mono soundtrack. Due to the age of the film the dialog sounds a little thin, but Criterion has done a good job cleaning up the audio. The wind whistling through the empty streets is clear and haunting, and the music comes through clearly. There is a very low amount of hiss, but this isn't very noticeable at normal levels. There are optional English subtitles.
The full frame video to this film looks very good, especially for a film of this age. The black and white image is sharp, with an excellent amount of detail and a full range of gray tones. The smoke curling up around the lights in the pool hall is clear and well defined. Some details do get lost in dark areas but this is a minor complaint. There are not any digital defects worth mentioning.
Criterion has included some good extras with this DVD. There is the theatrical trailer, which runs nearly four minutes, and a large image gallery that includes production photos, posters, behind the scenes shots, and the original Itallian program book.
Also included is an original featurette, Vitellonismo. This 35-minute documentary interviews some of the actors from the film (Leopoldo Trieste and Franco Interlenghi) along with assistant director Morlado Rossi and several Fellini scholars. The interviews are fairly interesting, with the group talking about the production, knocking around after the days shooting was over, and some of the background to the film. It compliments the feature nicely. This featurette is in Itallian, of course, with optional subtitles.
Martin Scorsese has said that he was inspired by this film to make Mean
Streets. Many other movies owe a debt of gratitude to this production
as well. Diner, Slackers, and Clerks all mine the same
material that Fellini examined in this film. While it is not a perfect
film, it certainly is influential, as well as being a very enjoyable and
interesting movie to watch. Criterion has done another great job
with this film, making the DVD an easy one to Recommend.