“Fellini 101” retrospective kicks off with “I vitelloni” at the Cinematheque

Dylan Jewell, Staff Writer

“Fellini 101” has premiered at the Cinematheque, and its meaning is dual: It’s a crash course of master filmmaker Federico Fellini’s greatest hits, as well as a commemoration of his 101st birthday. Featuring brand new 4K restorations of all of his essential works and even a few deeper, more controversial cuts, the retrospective is a wonderful opportunity for a new generation of film lovers to discover and truly appreciate one of the greats. His works may have garnered immense praise but he has been given very little earnest consideration in the 21st century, and this event gives him a chance to shine.

Kicking off the event was the film that fans cite as his most formative: “I vitelloni,” the story of five 20-to-30-year-old do-nothings who frolic and fester around a small seaside town on the Adriatic coast. Characters include a would-be playwright, a washed-up opera singer and a petulant mama’s boy. You may think at first, as I did, that this will be an Italian machismo love fest or an unsavory celebration of perpetual boyishness, but it’s actually a remarkably human and emotionally whetting though not entirely satiating drama, and definitely the Fellini film that best embodies the director’s style.

It centers on work-shy Fausto, an incorrigible womanizer who is forced to wed Sandrina, the lovely but naive young woman he previously impregnated. But, much to the chagrin of everyone in his life, he’s not particularly keen on settling down. We follow his moral journey, which proves legitimately stirring, despite its familiar framework that lesser directors would make trite and formulaic. Fellini’s take is nowhere near that, rather it’s wistful, loving, familial and grounded in the universality of maturation. It’s a kiss on both cheeks and a slap on both as well—the true Italian way.

“I vitelloni” has tended to pale in comparison to Fellini’s unanimously lauded and seminal films like “8 1/2” and “La Strada,” which is not at all surprising. It’s a touch overwrought, and there are no performances as iconic as in his greatest successes, but that doesn’t mitigate its necessity in his filmography. It’s definitely his formative film, presenting wondrous flourishes of his visual flair and showing his talent as one of the great and most equitable dramatists of the 20th century. The form of a story serves not just as a model for his unique cinematic warmth and vitality, but also as his most reflective work, a kind of self-realizing thesis from which all of his later successes sprung from.

The retrospective is running until Oct. 24, featuring new restorations of classic films such as “Nights of Cabiria,” a transcendent and tragic melodrama that ranks among the finest of all films, featuring a legendary performance from Fellini’s wife and muse Giulietta Masina; “8 1/2,” a hypnagogic masterwork of the repressed and imagined inner life of an artist; “Amarcord,” a sumptuous dream-world tapestry of provincial Italian life; and “La Dolce Vita,” which is perhaps the single most celebrated foreign film, among others. This is truly a must for any fans of film both at Case Western Reserve University and in the greater University Circle community.

The full schedule as well as directions to the Cinematheque which is a short walk for anyone on-campus– can be found at cia.edu/cinematheque.