Although I Vitelloni isn’t Fellini’s first film, it was one that got him some notoriety around the world and began his film career as we know it. It’s more of a neo-realist one than a “Fellini film,” but begins to show his unique viewpoint, following his trajectory from screenwriter to director. This was the typical career pattern in the Italian film industry at the time, and was also the case for Pier Pablo Pasolini and Dario Argento. His next was La Strada, where the surreal aspects, carnivalistic atmosphere, and bold female characters that we now expect really became prominent. It also has autobiographical aspects based on his life as a young man, which is another link to his later work.
The film is about a group of five friends—a similar set-up to Diner—and if I wanted to pick a good English translation for the title, it would be The Slackers. It presents a snapshot of life in an Italian coastal town, where the friends are hanging out and getting up to not much. It has an episodic narrative instead of a clear story arc. You can see its influence on several American films from the 1970s and 80s, including Mean Streets, American Graffiti and even The Wanderers. We follow the friends through a few days of their lives, and the film ends when one finally escapes to the big city, leaving his friends behind to keep on with their pointless lives. It also features a famous carnival scene, always one of the director’s fascinations.
It’s certainly the best of Fellini’s neo-realist films, with a cast of great Italian actors who you will recognise from other films from that era. Apparently it was written as a reaction to a producer who refused La Strada, asking for a straightforward and more marketable comedy instead. Which is funny, because La Strada was the director’s first bonafide international hit.
The disc features a new transfer, but the only extra is video essay with author/critic Guido Bonsavor from Oxford.