Amarcord (1973)

This beautiful ode to the colourful and warm life of ’30s Italy is as culturally rich and free-spirited as Fellini has ever done.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Dir. Federico Fellini
1973 | Italy | Drama/Comedy | 123 mins | 1.85:1 | Italian
M18 (passed clean) for some sexual references and nudity

Cast: Magali Noel, Bruno Zanin, Pupella Maggio
Plot: A year in the life of an Italian coastal village in the 1930s during the rise of fascism, one that was inspired by the director’s youth.
Awards: Won Best Foreign Language Film &  Nom. for Best Director, Original Screenplay (Oscars)
Cristaldi Film / Park Circus – Warner

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex, Vignettes
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
First Published: 14 Jul 2012
Spoilers: No

The great Italian master of colourful, flamboyant films gives us Amarcord, a picture that is a beautiful ode to the free-wheeling life of ’30s Italy as seen not through the eyes of a child or an adult, but through the curious lens of Fellini’s camera.  

His camera is always roving, capturing the free-spirited and liberal attitudes of young Italians in a small town.  Even when his camera is still, there is always movement, an energetic vibe to the visuals.

Amarcord means ‘I Remember’, as Fellini remembers his youth, basing his semi-autobiographical film on that precious, though sometimes unreliable construct, called ‘memory’.  

Federico Fellini, who has never won a competitive Best Director or Best Screenplay Oscar (despite being nominated an astonishing twelve times in his career), shows why he is a consummate entertainer, a conductor of an extravagant circus act that is a clever mix of reality and fantasy.

Memory can be a fine recorder, yet it can distort what it has recorded in the most frustrating of ways.  But what memory does serve up most consistently is not its ability to recall or recollect the past, but its innate nature to imbue these recollections with a personal sense of nostalgia… of life once lived, and now affectingly felt.

“When the puffballs come, cold winter’s almost gone.”

Amarcord is as much a film about the carefree past as it is about the perils of Fascism that lurked in the alleys of Italia, only to explode in tandem with Nazism when WWII gripped Europe with an iron fist.  

Fellini does not dwell too much on politics, but merely see it as an interesting footnote in the lives of the townsfolk – a huge Mussolini face is paraded in a formal ceremony, but a boy fantasizes of his marriage to his crush instead.

There is no actual plot in Amarcord.  The film takes its narrative cue from Fellini’s camera as it gives us a look at the lives of boys longing for their moment of sexual awakening; a priest who is always concerned if the town boys touch themselves; a few sexy, buxomy ladies who love to flaunt their beauty; an oddball family with a mentally challenged uncle and a father who is perpetually angry…

Despite a non-existent plot, Amarcord is remarkably well-paced.  There is never a dull moment as sharp, scathing dialogue gives way to heart-achingly beautiful cinematography, and vice versa.  

Fellini draws our curiosity with some brilliant set-pieces set against a heavy snowfall or a calm sea as we wait for a magical moment, be it a male peacock spreading its fine tail into a fan, or a huge ocean liner navigating past boats of onlookers.

Amarcord is a light-hearted comedy-drama that is as culturally rich as anything Fellini has ever done.  Fascinating and engrossing, Amarcord’s most lasting legacy is its preservation of Fellini’s childhood memory, now immortalized on screen long after he has passed on to another world.  So is Nino Rota’s legendary music.

Grade: A




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