on 9 February 2005
"Amarcord" ('I remember') is Federico Fellini's impression of a year in the 1930's: a surreal carnival of memories, it is a film with no plot, but with haunting images - caricatures of the petit bourgeoisie, satires of provincial institutions. Teachers are portrayed as inflexible, autocratic. The Church is obsessed with stamping out masturbation. Families are dysfunctional - a crazed uncle climbs a tree to shout that he needs a woman ... only to be coaxed down by a midget nun. The whole town takes to the sea to wait, late into the night, for a glimpse of a passing liner.
"Amarcord" is a series of loosely linked vignettes. A lawyer tries to act as ringmaster, giving us background information about the town of Rimini. It had been bombed flat in 1943-44. Fellini reconstructs fantastic memories of the place. Nostalgia, he implies, is fantasy - our reconstruction of memories as little dramas.
There is a monochrome quality to "Amarcord"; the actors wear dark clothing ... a few appear in red, such as the local hairdresser, Gradisca, focus of much teenage lust. The costumes evoke a sense of how and why that person is remembered.
If there is a central character, it is the town square, the focus of communal life. Here, the townsfolk come and go, participating in spectacles like burning an effigy of a witch or watching a Fascist politician deliver his speech.
The direction emphasises Fellini's affection for people. Fellini's politics is humanist rather than doctrinaire ... he invites an exploration of consciousness, famously asking his audience to see his films, not to try to understand them. Many of his films are autobiographical - you take to them and from them something of your own memories ... some shared feeling, some new insight.
Fellini turned his back on realism. He espoused the surreal. There is not necessarily any subject to the film. You, as viewer, are not there to be entertained, but to interpret, to deconstruct the work and evoke and reconstruct your own emotions.
Fellini plays with light and darkness; fog, smoke, snow, or a storm of seedlings caught on the wind obfuscate both the images and the memories. This is poetic film making. Fellini constructs his characters in two dimensions, then builds them into full-bodied people for whom you can feel affection and sympathy. It is the institutions - education, religion, family life, or Fascist organisations which are portrayed as farcical, grotesque and dysfunctional. People are merely fallible - the first narrator is an old down-and-out who appears to forget his lines and stumble over his words.
The actors look like real people - they are hardly glamorous. They are often grotesque, their physique, make-up, hair, and clothing taken to extremes ... the sort of extremes you find imprinted on your memory. Fellini dubbed the sound afterwards - often making the actors sound unreal.
If there are underlying themes to "Amarcord" it is Fellini's portrayal of the emptiness of Italian society, of a nation living on memories of the glories of Rome, so vacuous it failed to note the rise to power of morally and intellectually bankrupt Fascism. Fellini counterpoints this with an exploration of teenage sexuality. His teenagers are fascinated by bodily functions - gross, bawdy, inexperienced, and ultimately impotent.
Fascism is as impotent as teenage sexual fantasy ... and intellectually, it is every bit as insubstantial. When the townsfolk go out to watch the passing liner, a triumph of the Fascist state, they are eventually given the spectacle of a huge, two-dimensional image, lit up like a giant Christmas tree. It is obviously fake ... as illusory as the national identity created by the Fascists.
Not Fellini's finest work, but a fascinating series of images which will have a very individual impact. It is a film which benefits from being watched more than once. It may not get under your skin the first time ... but.
on 28 November 2014
I have just seen Fellini's "Amarcord" for the first time, and it was an unsettling experience. I expected a comedy, and it was, but it's a pretty dark one. If this is indeed the mature Fellini's effort to capture the spirit of life in Rimini (and perhaps in Italy at large) at the time of the rise of Mussolini, what it shows mainly are men who can't grow up and women who waste their lives accommodating them. What it dramatizes, that is, is infantilization, and maybe it's inviting us to think of the relation between men who can't grow up and a fascist regime that offers the control that they can't seem to find it within themselves to impose on their own behavior. It has something of the feel, to me, of the cartoons of Grosz during the inter-war period in Germany -- funny, bitter -- and there's more than a bit of cartoonishness in Fellini's representations too. None of the characters is admirable (and none is intended to be), there is no "story" to their lives, and the framing device of the seasons passing is highly ironic, in light of the fact that the people don't grow or change. One wonders what Fellini saw in 1973 -- a recrudescence of right wing nonsense? -- that made this a film that he felt he had to make. The autobiographical fact that he made it after recovering from what he thought would be a fatal illness doesn't really tell us much. Maybe he thought that, however sentimentally he remembered his childhood, it was important now (in 1973) to get at some truth about it. As we look today (2014) at the trend in American cinema to represent infantilized men (in the action movies as much as in the "bromances") and invite us to find them charming, we can at least appreciate the edge of contempt that Fellini brings to his representations. At least at one point -- Aurelio's treatment with the castor oil and its aftermath -- it comes close to a theater of cruelty.
Notice that this is a five-star review. If the film is a bitter pill, maybe it's one we need to swallow as we contemplate the fascistic undertones of so-called libertarianism in our own time. And, of course, it's a great looking film. The pictorial composition is always engaging -- and there are stunning moments of visual glamor that nonetheless don't get in the way of our seeing the power of Fellini's critique -- the burning of the witch of winter, the "ship of state" that is worshiped almost by the townspeople, and which ends up capsizing them; the peacock in the snow, the steer in the fog, and maybe most painfully (apart from these awful family dinner scenes), the mad uncle in the tree, who seems to be giving voice to all that matters to men in the movie -- until he is so easily talked down by a midget nun! See it and squirm a bit -- it's finally not a pretty sight.
on 29 August 2015
ONe of Fellini's best and most celebrated films. Probably his most personal along with I Vitelloni, Giulietta degli Spiriti and 8 1/2.
This is also the most rooted and inspired by his past and kid's life in the small town and countryside of northern italy, before he became one of the main narrator of Rome.
Amarcord (meaning "my memories") is a mix of dream and rude reality, of peasant colorful habits and myths, of old fascist italy imaginery and artistic elaboration of youth and memory. Something made years after the events, and therefore filtered by a grown up man who saw much else while still feel he belongs to that age, a collective and personal one, where all seems to be suspended and there, and now is gone. Probably you will not appreciate some details and colors of the language and the manners that so clearly characterize the setting and people depicted in the film, but I would be really interested to see what's the point of view and vision of non-italian viewers.
A great blu ray edition.