Friday 2 March 2007

I Vitelloni (1953)

We're watching five men watch the crowning of a local beauty queen, Miss Mermaid 1953, but it soon gets rained off by a storm. Everyone crowds indoors and Miss Mermaid faints, becoming the centre of attention, so you'd be forgiven for not realising the film is really about the five men: Moraldo, Alberto, Fausto, Leopoldo and Riccardo. Fausto wants to split for Milan because he's got Moraldo's sister Sandra pregnant, but of course he marries her instead. Riccardo, played by director Federico Fellini's brother Riccardo, is a jovial tenor who seems to sing on every occasion, but who quietly watches his gut grow. Leopoldo is the intellectual of the bunch: he's a playwright living with his aunts. Moraldo wanders the streets after everyone else has gone to bed and thinks. Alberto worries about his sister who's seeing a married man.

In short, all five of them are young but certainly old enough: thirty or so. They're at the point in their lives where it's time to work out who and what they want to be, but they're all clinging on to their childhoods a little too strongly. Our film is how they go from one to the other, and it's hard to really sum it up any better than that because it's the sweep of it that works rather than the details: it's the why not the what. Fausto gets a job working for his in-laws' best friend, but tries it on with his boss's wife and gets fired; Riccardo gets drunk and depressed while dressed up as a woman for Carnival; Leopoldo gets to read his play to a great visiting actor. The details don't matter so much as the progression of the characters as people.

When I first started to watch Fellini I really didn't get it. I was all wrapped up in what seemed to be plots that didn't go anywhere, but the more I watch the more I understand how much he just tells us about life, in a uniquely and highly cinematic way. His films change each time I see them and are infused with a sense of what cinema should be about. They're about the grand topics like truth and beauty and they teach us without teaching. It becomes difficult not to watch just for the joy of it, and all the typical reasons to watch movies be hanged.

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