I Vitelloni(The Criterion Collection, 8.24.2004)
Literally, I Vitelloni means "young bulls," but the best translation of what director Fellini had in mind might be Slackers, or maybe Superannuated Brat Pack. This 1953 Federico Fellini classic has been gorgeously restored for its 50th anniversary. (Wait a minute...it's been 51 years since its Italian debut in '53, so why celebrate the 50th? It didn't open in the U.S. until late '56).
It's about teenagers who won't admit they're pushing 30. Five guys -- the deluded, pompous Fausto (Franco Fabrizi), sensitive Moraldo (Franco Interlenghi), spoiled sot Alberto (Alberto Sordi), wannabe crooner Riccardo (Riccardo Fellini) and talent-free playwright Leopoldo (Leopoldo Trieste) -- who sponge off mama, dodge jobs, scuffle aimlessly around their dead-end beachside home town of Rimini, Italy...partying, joshing, punking each other, pinching women they'd be terrified of spending more than one night with. If they manage to sprout a scraggly goatee or cadge 1,000 lire from a sister without instantly blowing it at the track, it's a big accomplishment.
I Vitelloni really is an accomplishment, aging as well as its heroes don't. Fifty one years later, it's still wonderfully watchable and listenable, thanks to future Godfather composer Nino Rota's score, and easily as good as any of the more famous Fellinis I've ever seen. It's the one that made him famous, and directly sparked Scorsese's first major film, Mean Streets, and caused Mel Brooks to instruct Barry Levinson to turn his slacker-youth reminiscences into an American I Vitelloni called Diner.
Though it bears traces of the neorealist school that launched Fellini, and some circus-y sequences we think of as "Fellini-esque," the movie is just its own scruffily lovely self: a softheartedly satiric look at the street life of society's plucky losers, occasionally granted transcendent visions that tend to end in hangovers the next day.
Folks in Rimini are born to fail. When luminous Sandra (Lonora Ruffo) wins the local Miss Mermaid beauty contest, her victory speech is cut off by the first downpour announcing summer's end. A loser of a winner, she's pregnant. Her impregnator Fausto gets nabbed inches from a clean getaway to Milan, so she gets wedded bliss with a guy who'd infinitely rather hang with his pals or, better yet, flying-tackle any passing skirt.
Fausto doesn't lose his job because of his abundant incompetence; he does it by propositioning the boss's proper wife (Lida Baarova, who, weirdly enough, was a real-life adulteress with Goebbels, who dumped her on Hitler's prim order).
The Fausto/Sandra saga loosely connects the delightful episodes in the proto-slackers' non-goal-oriented lives: the heist of the painted church angel, the town carnival bacchanal, the time the guys' car ran out of gas right after Alberto insulted the roadside workers, who whupped the guys upside their heads.
Told from the unobtrusive point of view of the Fellini alter-ego character Moraldo, the only one who escapes Rimini for the wider world, the film effects a sentimental mood without the gloppiness that afflicted other Italian memory-lane-wanderings. We laugh at the slapstick and yet respect the mocked characters, even though they don't strictly deserve it.
Fellini covered the same turf in his 1973 nostalgia piece Amarcord; that's spellbinding too, but autumnal, artificial. I Vitelloni feels like the first artistic rush transforming a young nobody into a genius. It's nostalgic, but also quietly ecstatic." -- Tim Appelo