Criterion Fridays – Amarcord

Amarcord (1973, dir. Federico Fellini)

Italy is an incredibly complex landscape. Since World War II they have been through dozens of governmental regimes and even before, there has been a centuries long intermingling of the Vatican and secular government. But these are the issues of adults, and as children we rarely are aware of the intermingling of government and our daily lives. We simply live our lives, and what stands out as monumental to us are those local moments. Federico Fellini returns to the Italy of his childhood here, life on a coastal Italian village where life is told through the observance of the seasons. What he creates is a small town masterpiece, on par with Our Town and Under Milkwood.

Beginning at the start of Spring, Amarcord (meaning “I Remember”) follows the denizens of an unnamed village through the course of a single year. The story is told in a series of vignettes, almost like a collection of interconnected short stories that feature recurring characters. The core of the film focuses on Titta, an adolescent coming of age in this particular year, getting in trouble with schoolmates, dreaming about life outside of the constraints of the village, and lusting after the gorgeous women of the town. There is also Gradisca, the most beautiful woman in the village who is never seriously pursued by any of the men in town. There’s Aurelio, Titta’s father, a local businessman who may or may not be involved in anti-Mussolini activities.

The film is not political, rather anti-establishment of any sort. There is a wonderful series of scenes taking place near the end of the school year where we are presented with a parade of the most outlandish and absurd teachers. This is something Fellini has a real gift for in all his work: casting the most interesting looking actors, who defy the traditional movie star standards. Every actor in this film look like a wonderfully bizarre illustration in a storybook. The flights of fancy the teenaged characters take are also quite amusing, in particular one boy whom dreams of a wedding with his crush during a visit from one of Mussolini’s lieutenants.  They stand before a floral Mussolini head made for the parade and its mouth moves, delivering the wedding ceremony.

There are also moments of reality that have an equally magical effect. At one point, the townspeople migrate to their small rowboats to go out a few miles from the coast for a chance at glimpsing an massive Italian ocean liner, symbol to all of them in this moment of Italy’s hollow power. Another powerful moment occurs during the winter when, during an impromptu snowball fight,  large male peacock swoops down from the sky and perches on a fountain in the square. The way the bird is filmed was in such a strikingly brilliant way I found myself unsure of how such a shot was achieved. Amarcord has moments of great humor and aching sadness, and because of its honest love and criticism of its characters it stands as one of the more moving cinematic experiences I have had.

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