Often considered one of Fedrico Fellini’s pivotal works, I Vitelloni (or The Young Lambs) chronicles numerous societal changes that swept through Italy during the early 1950s. Combining easily identified autobiographical elements with the penchant some young men have for squandering their youth and opportunities, I Vitelloni focuses on the process of adaptation. How we respond to changes in our environment. And how that response is received and utilized by society at large.
It was a risky and ultimately rewarding strategy that combined elements from the past and prospects for the future in an enveloping saga of four brothers trying to find their way in a world recently devastated by war and its lingering aftermath.
As with all stories of transformation, Il Vitelloni begins with a storm, in this case a violent downpour interrupting a beach-side beauty pageant in a provincial town on the Adriatic coast. The storm continues, in one form or another, as the narrative unfolds.
We meet Fausto, an inveterate skirt chaser who relies on his repartee and appearance to skate through life. We also come to know Moraldo, the youngest of the group who observes Faust’s womanizing as he ponders what he will do with his own life. Then there is Ricardo, the baritone, who nourishes unrealistic ambitions to sing and act. Alberto is the daydreamer, supported by this mother and self-reliant sister. Finally, we have Leopoldo, the aspiring dramatist. Five fast friends in post-war Italy, each with a different skill set and a different vision of who they think they might be. All are reluctant to commit to much of anything, which winds up being the driving force behind the narrative.
None of the five escape unblemished. All have been changed by what we might call the ravages of war. The key, as Fellini presents it, is how they deal with the change that comes their way.
Perhaps the only one of the group who approaches a realistic understanding of his life is Moraldo, who resolves to abandon the provincial monotony of his dead-end town. In the final scenes of the movie, as he is boarding the train for Rome, Moraldo imagines his childhood friends sleeping their lives away. And as he is imagining, we are treated to an innovative visual montage showing each of his friends sleeping in bed at home. What alerts us to Moraldo’s resolve and compassion is the quality of the montage: the camera pans slowly past each friend snoozing sweetly only to dissolve to the next napper of the group. What’s more, there is a sense of alien motion in this montage, as both the camera and the beds themselves are moving. It is almost as if Fellini is telling us that movement never ends and we must find the best and most practical way of dealing with this movement.