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Considered one of Federico Fellini's true masterpieces I Vitelloni tells the story of a group of young men living in a provincial coastal town somewhere in Italy. Unemployed, often without any money but full of dreams we follow Moraldo (Franco Interlenghi), Alberto (Alberto Sordi), Fausto (Franco Fabrizi), Leopoldo (Leopoldo Trieste), and Riccardo (Riccardo Fellini) through their daily struggles to find a meaning for their spinning out of control lives. But how can these young men who still live at home with their mothers outgrow the small town mentality they carry in their hearts? Fausto, the leader of the group, has just gotten in trouble for getting a girl from a notable family pregnant, Leopoldo, an aspiring young writer who has never ending arguments with his mother is slowly but surely getting tired from the village he is a part of, and Moraldo the voice of reason among all the other men is also growing more and more weary of the monotonous life the tiny village has to offer.
Preceding the Maestro's grandiose La Dolce Vita (1960), 8 ½ (1963), and La Strada (1954), the films that made Federico Fellini one of the icons in Italian Neo-Realism, I Vitelloni's is a near-documentary feature partially based on recollections from his youthful years in Rimini, Italy. Filled with poetic imagery and the long continuous camera shots that made Fellini such a renowned name I Vitelloni is very much a character study of five men and their struggles within the dated environment of their provincial town. As much as I Vitelloni is a poetic film where emotions often run rampant the film is also very much a sober look at Italy and the social problems the country faced in the early 1950s. The dilapidated poorly lit streets, the wrinkled faces of working men, even the somewhat surreal ocean line very much create a believable portrait of a society in transition.
By all means however I Vitelloni is an amazingly looking aesthetic film. Its almost uncanny depth in terms of composition and narrative structure place the film among Fellini's best. Under the façade of a story that many might perceive as a simple tale of friendship Fellini delivers a realistic social analysis of Italy unlike you will see in any of his later pictures. The quiet and peaceful environment where the young men live is indeed the perfect setting for the underlying social overtones Fellini will later on regularly sneak in his films.
What separates I Vitelloni from everything else the Maestro had filmed prior to its release in 1953 is the strikingly mature approach of a director that has captured the essence of a certainly uneasy era from Italy's political and social life. Even nowadays I Vitelloni hardly feels like a dated film. The characters and the intimate manner in which their struggles are portrayed, the subtle framing of the narrative, even the laughable jokes that are often told by the friends are a true testament for the talent of a director that knew how to film what he wanted to express and more importantly was able to convey the spirit of the times he was a part of.
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