(1953)3.5Elbert VenturaThis early masterpiece from Federico Fellini won the Silver Lion at the 1953 Venice Film Festival and inaugurated a decade-long stretch that cemented his status as a cinematic giant. A thinly veiled memoir by this most autobiographical of filmmakers, I Vitelloni follows the meanderings of a group of five friends -- the titular vitelloni, or layabouts -- who linger in an adolescent limbo in their parochial seaside town. Fellini employs an episodic narrative and slow tracking shots to capture beautifully the ebb and flow of his characters' aimless lives. For a movie about arrested development and paralysis, it's irrepressibly giddy. I Vitelloni evinces Fellini's career-long obsession with the carnival and performance. An impromptu street mambo is the kind of delirious throwaway moment that Fellini practically invented, while the movie's set piece, a grand masquerade ball, prefigures the parties in future Fellini films. Considering it was only his third directorial outing, the movie is remarkable for how fully formed it seems. From the cozily recognizable strains of Nino Rota's score to the festive mise-en-scene, I Vitelloni is unmistakably Fellini-esque. Amplifying the movie's familiarity is its far-reaching influence: essentially the template for all young-men-stuck-in-adolescence movies, I Vitelloni has inspired filmmakers as disparate as Martin Scorsese and Giuseppe Tornatore. Generous and ultimately heart-breaking, I Vitelloni may well be the most big-hearted of the Italian master's movies.