Seth’s Favorite Film Discoveries of 2022

These are not new films released in 2022, but older pictures that I finally watched this year and have stayed with me. There are a lot of familiar names here that I thought I understood, only to realize I did not. Now, I do and it has enriched my life as a result. I was so elated to partake in the work of such wonderful old masters and look forward to filling in more gaps in my film knowledge in 2023.

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Movie Review – Amarcord

Amarcord (1973)
Written by Federico Fellini and Tonino Guerra
Directed by Federico Fellini

Nostalgia is a hell of a thing, ain’t it? It’s such a powerful hallucinogen. People construct vivid dreams out of fragments of memories that make them yearn for a non-existent past when they were a child and blind to the workings of the universe. Fellini knows it too, and while he wasn’t overtly political (he was a member of Christian Democracy and Catholic but was rather wishy-washy when it came to pinning his personal beliefs down), he clearly was disgusted by authoritarianism. Fellini experienced this in the form of Mussolini’s fascist movement when he was a child, made to participate in the basic compulsory youth programs that never asked for parental permission. Amarcord is the story of fondly remembering childhood but being unable to close your eyes to the evil at the core of quaint small-town life.

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Movie Review – Juliet of the Spirits

Juliet of the Spirits (1965)
Written by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano, and Brunello Rondi
Directed by Federico Fellini

8 ½ garnered justified acclaim for Federico Fellini, adding to his reputation as one of the best filmmakers of all-time while in the middle of his career. That success caused the director to continue down this path of psychoanalysis through cinema in his following picture, Juliet of the Spirits. He once again centered a movie around his wife & constant muse, Giulietta Masina, whom he hadn’t made a film with since Nights of Cabiria, seven years prior. The relationship between these two was not necessarily conventional, but it worked for them. They occupied different floors of the same house day to day and had different circles of friends. It’s well-known that Fellini constantly flirted with other women, but they stayed together and seemed to have a very passionate relationship. In Fellini’s words, Juliet of the Spirits was an homage to Masina. 

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Movie Review – 8 1/2

8 ½ (1963)
Written by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano, and Brunello Rondi
Directed by Federico Fellini

Somewhere around the first quarter of rewatching this film (for me, it was my wife’s first time), I turned to Ariana. We exchanged knowing looks, and eventually, one of us spoke. “This is fucking incredibly good, right?” The other confirmed this statement as we returned to watch what is undoubtedly one of the best films ever made. I first saw 8 ½ before my brain was truly ready for it. I was a twentysomething with arrested development due to being brought up in a homeschooled household. My neophyte brain was just developing during those years, playing catch up. Now, at 41, I look at 8 ½, and I see a film that resonates with me on a level few films do. This is what an artistic masterpiece looks like.

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Movie Review – La Dolce Vita

La Dolce Vita (1960)
Written by Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, Brunello Rondi, and Pier Paolo Pasolini
Directed by Federico Fellini

It’s not often that a film’s inspiration starts with a trend in women’s fashion, but that is where La Dolce Vita began. Sack dresses were becoming popular in Italy and would eventually become one of the iconic pieces of 1960s fashion. Fellini said they fascinated him because they were so flowing and formless that you did not know the body type of the woman wearing them. This led him to think about the tremendous aesthetic beauty happening in the wealthier circles he was moving in as his filmmaking reputation grew, how, from the outside, it was flowing and luxurious, but that the truth was hidden inside somewhere. Fellini also had tremendous help building out this initial thought with a staff of five writers, including longtime collaborator Tullio Pinelli. Pinelli met Fellini at a newsstand which he refers to as a moment of creative lightning striking. The two were in sync from the start and, with the other writers, told a story of the excess of Italian nightlife looking very different in the early morning light.

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Movie Review – Nights of Cabiria

Nights of Cabiria (1957)
Written by Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, and Pier Paolo Pasolini
Directed by Federico Fellini

Failure is not the end. This is a lesson that it’s tough for people to learn and understand. We’re conditioned to see failures & mistakes as signifiers of personal faults in people. The homeless are viewed with such rancor by the general American populace. Their financial ruin is seen as a quasi-divine punishment, while successful people are blessed by a benevolent god. Fellini’s early failure was the soil from which one of his best movies grew. The White Sheik, his first solo-directing venture, was not a tremendous success, received middling reviews, a few signs of the genius to come. Fellini extracted a supporting character from that film, Cabiria, a prostitute played by his wife, Giulietta Masina. 

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Movie Review – La Strada

La Strada (1954)
Written by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, and Ennio Flaiano
Directed by Federico Fellini

Some of the best filmmakers, living & dead, talk about coming to their projects based on a feeling or intuition. Fellini found La Strada through a tone he felt, described by the director as “a diffused sense of guilt, like a shadow hanging over me. This feeling suggested two people who stay together, although it will be fatal, and they don’t know why.” Images came to Fellini while he meditated on this feeling: snow falling on a quiet ocean, clouds, a nightingale singing. As with many of his greatest films, Fellini was profoundly inspired by his wife Giulietta Masina; pictures of her as a child helped him see La Strada’s central character. And his hometown of Remini, a place that became mythologized in his movies, provided the director with inspiration. He recalled the story of a pig castrator that was a known womanizer. The man impregnated a mentally handicapped woman in the town and cast her aside, claiming the baby was “the devil’s child.”

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Movie Review – I Vitelloni

I Vitelloni (1953)
Written by Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, and Tullio Pinelli
Directed by Federico Fellini

There are names in film that evoke a plethora of reactions. I’ve noticed within the filmTok sub-community of TikTok an effort to mock “film school dudes,” a class of people who often do deserve the mockery. The loudest ones certainly carry themselves with an air of superiority and pretentiousness. One way that people seek to make fun of film school dudes is to point to different directors as “red flags,” implying these filmmakers are problematic. This is where they lose me, choosing to point to directors like Martin Scorsese or Coppola as figureheads of toxic masculinity. If you watch their films and look beyond the surface presentation, you’ll quickly find these movies are brutally dissecting ideas of masculinity and pointing at the attitudes of their fathers & grandfathers as horribly destructive. I sometimes see Fellini’s name brought into the mix, and I couldn’t disagree more. The film bro may not understand Fellini and walk away with a pompous view of his masculinity, but that is more indicative of Americans’ lack of critical thinking than the actual work Fellini was doing.

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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.