Grade: AAmarcord (1974)

Director: Federico Fellini

Stars: Bruno Zanin, Pupella Maggio, Armando Brancia, Magali Noël

Release Company: The Criterion Collection

MPAA Rating: R

Federico Fellini Store

Fellini: Amarcord


Critics' Choice Video


No one presents more autobiographical films than Federico Fellini, or captures more natural humor or humanity on celluloid. So, in this sense, Amarcord (translated as "I remember" arguably ranks as the most Felliniesque film ever. This film could be a great introduction to foreign films for someone not hung up on traditional plots or expecting deep symbolic meanings. Totally unpretentious, Amarcord ranks as nostalgic fun.

Set in Fellini's memories of his childhood Rimini in the 1930s when Fascism ruled and people feared their neighbors would overhear "subversive" thoughts, the film presents a collage of wacky weirdos in a series of vignettes over a year's time.

In real life, Fellini left Rimini in 1937 and fell in love with Rome. He returned to his hometown in 1945, but could hardly recognize it--most of the former houses had turned to rubble and few had remained. Often quoted as declaring his dislike for returning to Rimini because of former "ghosts" he has filed away, he states in Charlotte Chander's I, Fellini,

For me, the real Rimini is the one in my head. I could have gone back there to film for Amarcord, but it wasn't what I wanted to do. The Rimini I could re-create was closer to the reality of my memory. . . . I discovered that the life I've told about has become more real for me than the life I really lived.
In the fictionalized resort town of Rimini, numerous narrators introduce unforgettable characters and scenes, mixtures of reality and fantasy that are often outrageously funny. Beginning in the spring when the floating puffballs signal the end of winter, the main protagonist is young Fellini stand-in, 14-year old Titta (Bruno Zanin). Titta introduces his loving dysfunctional family at the dinner table (as the obviously influenced Woody Allen will do in Annie Hall and Radio Days)--father (Armando Brancia) and mother (Pupella Maggio) throwing up their arms while arguing over child raising, and grandfather (Giuseppe Ianigro) calmly leaving the chaotic table to fart in the adjoining room.

Of course hormones of teenage boys become excruciatingly active, so Titta reveals his sexual obsession with the town's beauty, Gradisca (Magali Noël), and women in general. Here Fellini's active camera goes to work (along with effective musical enhancements by composer Nino Rota) filming the backside of Gradisca's provocative saunter one evening, and zeroing in on the gyrating female buttocks as they climb aboard bicycles. Although Fellini once denied the autobiographical content of Amarcord, he certainly leaves clear evidence that Gradisca is true to life in Fellini on Fellini:
Outside the Café Commercio Gradisca used to walk. Dressed in black satin that flashed in a steely, glittery way, she was one of the first to wear false eyelashes. Inside the café, everyone had his nose to the glass.

When Gradisca passed by, all kinds of enormous appetites were called into being: hunger, thirst, a longing for milk. Her broad hips looked like railway engine wheels when they moved, they suggested such powerful movement
Another memorable montage takes place when Titta sees Gradisca enter the Fulgar cinema alone to watch Gary Cooper (her idealized man). The sexually aroused teen carefully circles his "prey," moving closer and closer until he is seated right next to his fantasy. Sweating profusely, Titta cautiously moves his left hand down Gradisca's right thigh only to be gently rebuffed by her deadpanned response: "Looking for something?" She might as well thrown ice water on his penis.

Other humorous scenes play off the sexual frustrations of the teenage boys--the voluptuous catlike prostitute Volpina (Josiane Tanzilli) who prowls the streets and beaches and can "French kis" like no other, the playful group masturbation where each boy claims his own fantasy girl, the confessional with the distracted priest who is obsessed with the idea of teens "touching themselves" and the unforgettable tobacconist (Maria Antonietta Beluzzi) with the gargantuan jugs that smother Titta. To call Beluzzi's bosom "gargantuan" is actually a gross understatement--they have to be breasts of fantasy, and certainly Titta is turned into a virtual baby (and nearly smothered) when sucking them.

Fellini fills the film with characters that become icons viewers remember for years, very much like his own nostalgic childhood memories. Who could forget crazy Uncle Teo (Ciccio Ingrassia)? Released for an afternoon outing from the mental hospital, the lanky man proceeds to wet his pants and climb to the top of a fig tree screaming, "I want a woman." We soon find what he uses his pocketful of rocks for when family members attempt to coax him down, and it takes a Felliniesque dwarf nun to get Teo to return to earth.

The filmmaker sees humor and humanity in everything, a major reason that the characters in Fellini's films often don't look like actors--more like extras picked up off the street, who perform perfectly in synch with his fluid camerawork. The montage of his school days contains great wit, and will influence a similar scene in Woody Allen's Annie Hall, and scenes involving the fascists combine seriousness with comedy. In real life, Fellini suspected that his father was beaten by black shirted fascist louts that could later be seen in church, so he creates such a scene with Titta's father being suspected of making anti-fascist statements, tempering it by making the punishment a forced downing of cod liver oil.

It's difficult to imagine Fellini fitting in with Fascists, and indeed he describes how he subtly expressed his indifference to them in real life:
At fascist meetings, I never had a complete uniform: I always lacked something--black shoes, grey-green shorts, the fez. This was a sort of lukewarm sabotage, to stop me looking wholly fascist, the protest of an off-beat temperament, instinctively averse to that militaristic, foreboding atmosphere and all those processions.
In Amarcord the Fascists are portrayed as nothing more than a big show, illustrated most ludicrously with a huge floral Mussolini speaking head conducting a fantasy wedding ceremony for Titta's hormonally charged friends.

Fellini's Amarcord deservedly won the Oscar™ for Best Foreign Film and New York Film Critics Circle Award in 1974, but a truer test lies in how well the film sticks with you and how often you can watch a film and continue to mine new gems from it. With that criteria, Amarcord ranks very highly with the better Fellini films. It doesn't possess the depth of La Strada, Nights of Cabiria, La Dolce Vita, or 8 ˝, but for long lasting imagery this nostalgic remembrance is highly entertaining and just may hook a newcomer to foreign cinema. Definitely a fun film!

Note: The Criterion Collection has issued two renditions. The original contains bare minimum extra features--a trailer and a comparison before and after restoration feature only. But the recent version is a loaded two-disc affair, including a commentary by Fellini scholars, a deleted scene, Fellini artwork and audio interviews, and a 45-minute documentary. (Enough extras to sell your old Criterion in exchange for the new, like I did)

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