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,
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
It's difficult to imagine Fellini
fitting in with Fascists, and indeed he describes
how he subtly expressed his indifference to them in
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.
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
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!
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
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)