Fellini’s classic—with all its wonderful eccentricities—comes to theaters in a new print.
The title translates from the Italian Rimini dialect to “I remember.” That personal article is key, as Federico Fellini’s Amarcord isn’t trying to recreate a specific time and place.
Sure, it might be set in an Italian fishing village on the brink of WWII, but the last thing this film worries about is period-piece authenticity. Instead, what Fellini captures on-screen is something far more elusive—the heightened, larger-than-life haze of our childhood memories.
Originally released in 1974 and back in a new restoration supervised by cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno, Amarcord is the Maestro’s most rambunctious, accessible film. Full of vibrant colors, bawdy humor and bittersweet nostalgia, it’s a loosely connected collection of anecdotes, framed at each end by the arrival of spring dandelions.
Ostensibly we’re seeing a year in the life of this small, peculiar town—there’s a funeral, a wedding and a parade of Mussolini’s Blackshirts. But watching the movie feels more like flipping through a cartoon sketchbook of vivid remembrances and formative experiences.
The village itself is the main character, as folks casually introduce themselves to the camera and begin spinning their wild yarns. There’s a kindly, professorial type, attempting to inform us of historical sights and distinction. Too bad he’s always interrupted by mischievous locals pelting him with snowballs or sticking their rear ends out the window to break wind. (Amarcord might be the only Academy Award-winning film to boast more fart jokes than a Farrelly Brothers movie.)
Elegant and forever clad in scalding reds, Gradisca (Magili Noel) runs the local beauty parlor while serving as the population’s unattainable object of desire. Volpina is another story—a bedraggled vision running amok on the beach in a hyperventilating nymphomaniac frenzy. There’s also a lady at the tobacco shop with a bosom generous enough for consideration in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Obsessed with all these women is little Titta (Bruno Zanin), who spends most of the film in thrall to puberty, wracked by longing and intense Catholic guilt. It’s telling that the director himself supplies Titta’s voiceover during a tense confessional sequence, when the priest asks if he’s been touching himself.
Seemingly unconcerned with narrative resolution, Amarcord often pauses and lets folks on the sidelines spin their tall tales. There’s a lengthy discussion with an elegant gentleman who talks about a woman who “loved him so much she offered posterior intimacy.” My favorite moment is a tour of the local movie theater, during which an extra peeks his head into the corner of the frame and offers his review of the current attraction.
That generosity of spirit defines the film, and yet there’s also an undertow of sadness that becomes impossible to ignore. Even the most raucous set-pieces tend to end on a note of uncertainty, with awkward silences and slow fade-outs.
Take, for instance, a visit with Titta’s mentally disturbed Uncle Teo. On a day pass from the asylum for an afternoon picnic, Teo promptly wets himself, climbs a tree and begins pelting family members with stones, demanding that they bring him a woman. (“Shall I fetch Volpina?” Titta asks.)
Fellini plays it at first for absurd laughs, particularly upon the arrival of a disciplinarian dwarf nun. But somewhere along the way the scene’s mood switches almost imperceptibly, as the camera lingers on the sun setting in the countryside and the film becomes awash in melancholy.
The emotional climax is also one of the most beautiful moments in Fellini’s body of work. A blizzard has left towering 6-foot snowbanks, and children frolic amid the blinding white flakes. Young Titta spies a blue peacock alighting upon the town square. The boy’s mother is dying, and as the peacock unfurls its kaleidoscopic feathers it spreads out into a vision of mystery and grace.
Everything in Amarcord is just a little bit bigger, brighter and more dramatic than reality—which if you think about it, is how we tend to remember things. Especially childhood.