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The Criterion Collection presents
I Vitelloni (1953)

"When you want to have a good time, no one helps."
- Alberto (Alberto Sordi)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: September 16, 2004

Stars: Franco Interlenghi, Alberto Sordi, Franco Fabrizi, Leopoldo Trieste, Riccardo Fellini, Leonora Ruffo
Director: Federico Fellini

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:47m:36s
Release Date: August 24, 2004
UPC: 037429195826
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

It seems like a cinematic corollary to the ironclad rule of demographics (every year, every member of the population gets one year older) that as long as young people are coming of age, there will be a steady stream of coming-of-age movies. Their quality will inevitably vary, and few if any will be as good as I Vitelloni, an early Fellini film in which you can feel the director galloping toward his mature style. (He was 30 when this movie was made, and it is very good; but there's unquestionably a huge creative leap in his next picture, La Strada.) As a portrait of dissolute youth, or of just guys hanging out, I Vitelloni has influenced several generations of filmmakers now—you can see the debt owed to Fellini by films as varied as Diner, GoodFellas and The Last Picture Show. But this is no museum piece, and is likely to strike the same emotional cords in a 21st-century audience that it did a half century ago, at its premiere at the Venice Film Festival.

The focus is on a group of guys in a sleepy Italian seaside town who seem to have been friends for years, though to call them men would be stretching it—they're all happy enough just to get by, to live with and have their meals cooked by Mamma, to spend their time either putting the moves on girls, or trading lies about those same girls with their buddies. The character who gets the most screen time, Fausto, has gotten what for him is a death knell to these youthful indiscretions: he's knocked up his sometime girlfriend, Sandra, the sister of another of the pals, Moraldo. Family and community pressure gets Fausto to walk down the aisle; Sandra may not want to face up to it, but the ring on Fausto's finger cannot contain his wandering eye, and his reputation precedes him everywhere in town. Fausto is full of self-pity—the poor guy just wants to mambo—and you can see the pain and contempt in his face when he's forced to take a job at a clerk in an antiques shop. He's stupid enough to put the moves on his boss's wife; in general he's kind of a loathsome guy, a difficult figure to have at the center of a movie, and he's aptly named as well, doing his best to lead all those around him into temptation.

Moraldo has it tough, wanting to continue to hang with the guys, but unable to turn a blind eye to the fact that his new brother-in-law is cheating on his pregnant sister seemingly at every available opportunity. Though Fausto may get more screen time, in many ways Moraldo is the moral center of the picture; Franco Interlenghi gives an understated performance that may not immediately strike you with its intensity, but this is a fully formed, finely played character, and may be the one that stays with you the longest. (The final sequence of the movie involves Moraldo, and is truly beautiful; among other things, it helps to ratify a cinematic fascination with trains.) Also among the guys are Alberto, who cadges the odd 500-lira note from his sister, Olga, with romantic problems of her own, for she's involved with a married man; and Leopoldo, who dreams of getting out of Dodge and being the next Pirandello. Given his dreams of literary greatness, there may be an initial temptation to see Leopoldo as a stand-in for Fellini; but the play he has written is pretty ghastly (he more or less reads the whole thing to a visiting actor, who takes an interest in the young man for reasons other than his literary prowess), and he's played by Leopoldo Trieste, who, as he was in The White Sheik, is often the butt of Fellini's jokes.

Fellini is great at subverting the expectations of both his characters and his audience, and the moodiness and limits of a small town have never been depicted more artfully. And the emergence of the style so blithely referred to as Felliniesque is evident as well; the director still here owes a significant debt to Neorealism, but the surging crowds, the circus-like, gargoyley view of humanity are very much part of the fabric of this movie. You may connect more viscerally with the group of characters in this film than in any other Fellini picture, and it's a delicately rendered, moving piece of work.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Criterion's restored print looks pretty sharp in this transfer, with solid levels of black, few or no scratches, and just enough grain to retain a documentary-like feel without being too self-conscious. It's a strong effort on a picture that has looked pretty sorry in previous home video releases.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Even early on, Fellini seemed to favor dubbing over production sound, and the results can sometimes sound a little tinny; happily, they are frequently balanced with Nino Rota's evocative score. The dynamics are occasionally problematic, but that's to be expected on a mono track of this period.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. stills gallery
  2. accompanying booklet with an essay on the film by Tom Piazza
Extras Review: Newly produced for this DVD, Vitellonismo (35m:09s) is a reminiscence on the film by members of its cast, colleagues of the director, and Italian film critics; there's something especially touching about seeing the actors, fifty years later, their eyes glistening with stories about a favorite project from the days when they were much younger men. Aside from an original trailer, you'll also find a hefty stills gallery, which reproduces the program from the film's premiere, along with on-set shots, photo books, posters and lobby cards.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Far more than just a stepping stone to the pictures that we think of in the Fellini pantheon, I Vitelloni is a wry, warm, true look at a group of friends fighting off the inevitable transition into manhood. They're implored to put away childish things, but a sense of wonder gets put on the shelf as well, and Fellini portrays these guys with empathy and good humor. If you haven't been one of these guys or don't know anybody who resembles them, you may not be looking hard enough.


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