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December 31, 2008
I Vitelloni 1953: Frederico Fellini
It was nice to catch up with this film finally only yesterday. The first thing to strike me was clearly the autobiographical influences that were informing the film. On reading the comments by Bondanella (2001) and Liehm (1984) I was struck how far removed these critics were from the social reality which informed Fellini. There was much ruminating on the masks and Pirandellian charactristics of the nature of the central group of protagonists - I Vitelloni or "young bucks" who could equally be described as "the lads". For me the social ontology and reality of this film was palpable and there is a clear case for arguing that sometimes critics can overwork the intellectual cross-references at the expense of missing the core elements of the film.
The fact that film had an international appeal is hardly surprising. It would have appealed to males in particular who had dreams of becoming something but who lived in a petty constrained highly provincial environment. For anybody who has experienced sad little holiday resorts in winter when the visitors have gone away this film would have had powerful resonances. If Fellini is dealing in masks one mask he is is intent upon unmasking is that of world behind the resort. What happens to those left behind at the end of the season as the crueller seasonal winds kiss the make-belive bonhomie of the outgoing summer. The second aspect of social reality which the above critics really failed to highlight was a wider social critique of the way in which women were hugely exploited by these young men. Whether mothers, sisters or wives the women in the film were forever supporting the good-for-nothing young men. From my perspective at least Fellini was providing an implicit social critique of the Italian family structure.
Fellini & Rimini
Fellini had been brought up in the seaside resort of Rimini which he finally left in 1939 with ambitions to become a journalist at the age of 19. His past is strongly refrenced in both this film as well as Amercord which was made much later in 1974.Fellini struggled for several years spending time writing scripts for reviews and downmarket comedies and drawing charicatures and cartoons. Fellini was to meet Rossellini in 1944 becoming a very close collaborator working on scripts such as Open City, Paisan and several others. He also worked with other neorealist scriptwriters for directors such as Antonioni's Mill on the River Po. his involvement with the creative centre of artistic endeavour within the Italian film industry was central in helping him go beyond his provincial background whilst avoiding the more superficial aspects of commercialism within the big city.
Some critics have noted the weakness of "the plot" however this is clearly the film's central strength precisely because of the slice of life contingent nature of the group of "lads" / "slackers"/"wasters" or " I Vitelloni" who are the protagonists of the film. A synopsis can't do justice to the film because it can't describe the visual ambience which is core to the creation of meaning of the film.
Although there are five of them, there are two central characters who the film revolves around. Fausto is described through voiceover as the group's 'spiritual leader' and he appears slightly older than the rest. Moraldo is the youngest of the group and is clearly the person closest to Fellini's own life. Moraldo and Fausto are more closely linked because Fausto is forced to become Moraldo's brother-in-law at the beginning of the film. Fausto has got Sandra, Moraldo's sister pregnant and Fausto goes to live at Moraldo's house as he has no job or current prospects of his own. Fausto is forever trying to get other women into bed and is forever getting into trouble over it. It gets him sacked as a shop assistant in a shop selling religious icons, statues etc and he eventually persuade Moraldo to help him steal a statue in order to gain just "compensation" for sacking without notice. They try selling it to convents and monasteries but fail miserably. Eventually it is kept at the beach and of course discovered. Both get into trouble but Moraldo lies to Sandra about Fausto's amorous activities and he restored. Eventually Fausto goes too far and Sandra disappears from the house and the Vitelloni spend the day searching for her as Fausto finally comes to realise what is actually valuable in his pathetic little provincial life. Sandra has gone to Fausto's father and little sister. When they eventually find her Fausto's father takes a belt to Fausto and finally there is reconciliation.
Moraldo is always represented as being slightly on the outside of the group. He dislikes being placed in a morally ambivalent position of either betraying his sister or his peer group and he of all the group seems to recognise that the town holds no future for him as it constrains his future. He will bcome some sort of shopkeeper making money from summer tourists and settling down to have children and forgetting any larger ideas. Moraldo is frequently associated with the railway station which brings the summer visitors from the cities. In the end he takes the train for a new life and like Fellini himself escapes provincialism. It is a journey made by Julie Christie a few years later in Billy Liar whilst Billy Liar himself fails to make it. In this sense Fellini was well ahead of the game, which is perhaps yet to be recognised.
There are other episodes briefly focusing upon the other characters. Alberto sponges off his hard-working sister and was a little unfairly described by Liehm and then Bondanella as the most pathetic of the group. This is unecessarily judgemental and a pointless criticism. Leopoldo is the group's "intellectual" and is a wannabee playright who by the end we know isn't going to make it.
Episodes are centered around events in the town of which the carnival is the most important. Of course carnival is something which Fellini is strongly attracted to and these moments were clearly important in his development. But these events are interludes in which minor "trangressions" are temporarily allowed but these are chimeras around which the ontology of the everyday proceeds with monotonous regularity.
I thought the film insightful, poignant and funny. It was well supported with a good soundtrack from the ubiquitous Nino Rota. As a critique of the limitations and petty aspcts of provincial life the film worked well. It clearly played an important part in Fellini's own development and as far as I'm concerned it stands the test of time and comes as strongly recommended viewing although it is not a "masterpiece".