The impressive third film by Federico Fellini, I vitelloni, is one of his most accessible because it has less typical Fellini-esque qualities; even as an adoring Fellini fan, I recognize that not everyone would necessarily enjoy his whimsical, surreal, and fantastical depictions of Italian life. This movie, about five young men in postwar Italy, exhibits more neorealism common to other Italian directors of that time. Its groundedness makes it almost feel not like a Fellini film.
The structure of the film, like later Fellini, is rather fluid and lacks the traditional plot you expect; there is not really a beginning, middle, or end, but rather a series of vignettes showing the relationship among these men. We see their romantic, creative, and professional prospects throughout nearly two hours with them, told with wit and realism. It is a picture into typical Italian life for a very particular subset of the population: late twentysomething / early thirtysomething men.
This may be a result of the release date of the film (in the early 1950s), but the chronology and age of the characters plays an interesting role in our perspective of them. In Italian, vitelloni is slang for slackers, and these men certainly fit that bill, loafing through life rather aimlessly. Given that one of the men turns 30 during the course of the film, we can calculate backwards and figure out that these men would have just been too young (under 18) when World War II hit. Their experience was vastly different than those just older than them, and did not experience the hardships and devastation of war abroad. This theme is evident in their relationships with those older than them, as the men lack the discipline and seriousness of their parents.
In addition to their immaturity by age, we also see the recurring Fellini theme of reckless and insensitive masculinity. The standard tropes of Italian machismo, of being overbearing and aggressive towards women and overall arrogance are shown in all the young men. These negative qualities, however, do backfire and they are forced to deal with the consequences.
While not his most memorable or even one of his best works, Federico Fellini’s I vitelloni is still a great piece of art, reflective of its time and culture.