Reported by Yira Melissa Vilaro
Upon the settling of my initial fascination and after quickly googling the English translation of the word “Vitelloni” I realized I was hardly the first person to be captivated by this “pivotal” “masterful” “turning-point” oeuvre of Fellini. However, what can I say? After sitting down to watch this beautiful film, I understood why scores of scholars, critics, pseudo-intellectuals and film snobs alike gravitate towards praising the old good cinema, the “masters” of the craft, reveling in the old rediscovered “classics” like moths to a flame in the same tired, tinged with superiority sense of reveling of the supremacy of these films, and the supremacy of the critic for understanding their greatness.
I Vitelloni sparked that spark that is not very often ignited lately, my own passion for film, what I love about it which I sometimes forget in my quest to “succeed” in the industry and because it is seldom encouraged nowadays in theaters. Yes I know; it easy to be a skeptical snob when it comes to film criticism, to put yourself on a high pedestal and exalt the lost works of Fellini or Godard or Kurosawa and lament the sad state of cinema nowadays and how there’s no trueness anymore in it and how the art has been corrupted… and so forth. I don’t want to be a snob, trust me. This weekend aside from watching I Vitelloni, I also watched the Hunger Games (front row on its premiere on Fri –tickets bought in advance like any good aficionado) and Jack and Jill (yes, the Adam Sandler movie whose existence, if you are lucky, you won’t be aware of) which was barely watchable and almost worth its torturous duration by the fact that Al Pacino stars in the most hilarious Dunkin’ Donuts commercial that I think will ever grace any TV or film screen. I do not sit down and watch movies of the fifties to feel cultured or film literate, I watch them because, a lot of the time, they are incredibly enjoyable. I can be as bored by a black and white film as the next guy –it took me 3 or 4 attempts to get through the entire La Dolce Vita, but there was something magical about I Vitalloni, something so real and approachable and that I realized I missed in cinema that awakened in me genuine emotion, genuine attachment to a film.
There is a sense of natural realism, maybe even laid-back naturalism, that comes with these performances the likes of which I haven rarely seen in cinema of the last 20 years, where characters on screen over-emote in the hopes of garnering critical acclaim, resounding accolades for a “masterful performance”, forgetting that emotions that run deep sometimes don’t find their expression on the surface. The characters felt real, timelessly so, the situations let to “se debrouiller” without haste but without over-indulging in ennui; the camera offering a glimpse into these people’s (cause after a while there were not characters anymore, these were just people –your neighbor, your distant cousin, the man that runs the nearby coffee shop) everydayness. Interactions felt real and natural, not forced, just there, maybe even without a purpose in the general narrative of the story, a lack of the feeling of contrived-ness and artifice that I feel clouds movies nowadays despite their best intentions; dialogue that did not seem forced or even there for a purpose, whose mere existence in the screen betrays a larger picture, a sense of significance within the plot it helps delineate. It was nice to see a conversation that is just happening as is, without having to wonder (voluntarily or not) how this interaction/dialogue will take on new significance as events in the movie transpire, how this “insignificant” word or look will take on new symbolic meaning as the movie develops. It was good to actually watch a film without having to question the implications of a ”superfluous” cadre within the context of the narrative it is clearly there to advance.
And lastly, I related to it because the film, about a glimpse into the lives of five guy friends at a turning point in their lives, at the crossroads between having to mature and a reluctance to grow up, is such a familiar and relatable subject, of a universality that is relevant, at least to me, with five of us in a two bedroom apartment and every penny I spend twinging the guilt and the awareness that I am growing up, that sometime I will have to take responsibility for myself (maybe even another human being!) and grab the reins of my own life full on and the knowledge I am SO not ready to relinquish the good times, and the terror and even apathetic reluctance it inspires, that it is somewhat gratifying, charming, and even soothing to see it on the screen. Yes, this is a movie from the 1950’s, but at least I’m not alone.