Friday, November 10, 2006

DVD classic- I, Vitelloni

Years before Federico Fellini came to cinematic prominence with films like “La Dolce Vita”, “81/2” and even “Nights of Cabiria”, he struck a minor miracle with his third film entitled “I, Vitelloni”. Probably one of the few best films about hanging out and not wanting to grow old ever filmed, it follows the lives of four young Italian friends as they chase women, party, obsess over future desires and kick about lazy jobs in a resort town. This was way before Fellini’s sprawling interest documenting the large social stratus of Rome… and it’s even a little tender when one of the friends, eventually, runs away to the city. It’s even more devastating because we know what this man will become in the amoral wash of “La Dolce Vita”. Fellini’s only intent here is to charm and present these five men as aimless, young and discontent… a feeling we all have at 23. And for its 1 hour and 45 minute running time, “I, Vitelloni” strikes a resonant chord as it observantly details the languidness of small time Italian life, as well as giving any film lover the glimpses of family and friendship that emerges in the later works of Scorsese and others.

Each character is drawn with vivid and humanistic flourishes. Fausto (Franco Fabrizi) is a relentless skirt chaser. When he impregnates Moraldo’s (Franco Interlenghi) sister Sandra, he learns to grow up fast and lands himself a boring job in an antique store that gives him equally flirtatious time with the shop owner’s wife. Leopoldo (Leopoldo Trieste) dreams of becoming a famous playwright, but when his idol comes to town, he receives a life lesson in major disappointment. Alberto (Alberto Sordi) continually worries about his mother and the effect the relationship his sister carries on with a married man will have upon her. In between the interruptions of modern life, Fellini frames his four young protagonists as genuinely likeable and ingratiating subjects. They fill their days walking along the beach, going to parties that last all night and drinking until they can’t stand up. But what’s even more prevalent in Fellini’s general outlook throughout the film are the bittersweet emotions that slowly build beneath the surface. We know someone, for all their posturing and talk of starting adult lives somewhere else, has to get out alive. And when it does happen and one character hops the train for Rome, there’s a simple camera move that’s earth-shattering in its translation of that single moment when we outgrow one part of our life and face ahead to the uncertain future as an adult. At its core, “I, Vitelloni” is about that five seconds of film, and everything up until that point is preparation.

So in regards to films about hanging out, I think there are 4 definitive versions that capture a vulnerable sense of time-standing-still. Only “I, Vitelloni” is an outright masterpiece, but…

2. Mean Streets, Scorsese’s ode to youth and violence that rolls Catholic guilt, taboo romance and violent urges into one rabble rousing tale of youth loose at night.
3. Beautiful Girls, Ted Demme’s highly overlooked 1995 film about the return home of one man to his childhood. It’s a film that reaches poignant heights and never gets old.
4. Diner, Barry Levinson’s portrait of 50’s youth enriches upon each viewing simply because the banter between the film’s actors feels so natural.
5. The Last Picture Show, Peter Bogdanovich’s supreme elegy to small town Texas life that gets it right on so many levels. If you didn’t grow up here, the nostalgia may be lost on you.


TALKING MOVIEzzz said...

What about KICKING AND SCREAMING? Does that fit the criteria?

Joe Baker said...

Ohh it most certainly does. I just didn't think it was in the top 5. Top 10 definitely, though.

Anonymous said...

I know it's not one of your artsy fartsy films but next to last picture show it is the best hanging out movie I know of, Dazed and Confused