Notes on Fellini’s I Vitelloni and La Strada

I force myself, often without success, to watch Federico Fellini’s films, even though I think that most of his work, starting with 8½, descends film after film into greater cinematic fraudulence, the only exception being Juliet of the Spirits, but even that takes me several patches of viewing to get through. What is particularly interesting, though, in Juliet of the Spirits is the splendid homage to another Federico: Garcia Lorca.

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Juliet of the Spirits

In a minor effort to validate my perspective I have the last weeks watched two of Fellini’s films. I began with one film I had not seen, the 1953 I Vitelloni. Although rather aimless and narratively inconclusive, it is worth studying, for its visual commentary on the age of Italy’s peopled landscape, life and escapism in a small town, the ineradicable foibles of humankind, and the quiet magnificence of unexpected encounters.

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I Vitelloni

Soon after, I watched La Strada once again. I have watched it a number of times, and cannot being myself to love it and the adulation it has attracted. It goes on too long for its content, and the cinematography is often static and uninspired. It is essentially a loosely woven story about a brute, a simpleton, and a fool. The brute is a murderer and rapist, and given to infidelity and wine. All three are largely ignorant. Arguments have been proposed that the brute comes to love the simpleton, whom, however, he abandons in the mountains in winter; and this scene in effect closes the narrative of the film. The subsequent death of the simpleton is related, in Greek dramatic style, near a laundry line by an unidentified laundress. This leads to the close of the film, set on the eternity of the seashore, which intends to make one acknowledge the loneliness of the brute. The intention does not take hold of me. It seems more that he has too much to drink.

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La Strada

What I do find sad in the film, and many others of that time, are the images of countryside without asphalt, cell phone towers, and plastic garbage; for it makes clear that over the last half century we have renounced fully, and probably forever, what is worthwhile.

Strangely, but not inaptly, the most interesting scenes are of a religious procession, a rural wedding, and a night of shelter in the barn of a convent.

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