I have a love/hate relationship with pioneering Italian director Federico Fellini. Love 8 ½! Hate La Dolce Vita (which Darren Smith discovered last month)! Love Roma! Hate La Strada! Really, really hate La Strada! Oh boy, is that confession going to make me unpopular!
Fellini’s 1973 Oscar-winner, Amarcord, is widely hailed as one of his greatest achievements and a masterpiece of world cinema. Given my rocky history with the director I am always trepidatious about exploring yet another of his semi-autobiographical films about life in Italy. His films often take on a wandering sensibility that I sometimes find troublesome, drifting about through memories and moments that can make for a disjointed experience especially in this easily distracted world. However, Fellini’s ability to compose a frame that oozes baroque drama and vitality is almost unparalleled and Amarcord more or less succeeded for me in evoking a time period through the eyes of a young boy and the impression it left on him. The title is Romagna for “I remember”, which should say a lot.
Amarcord begins with the budding of spring as Fellini’s camera investigates the townspeople, shuffling between dinner tables, class rooms and the streets of the small, coastal community of Borgo (based on the director’s own hometown of Rimini in the north east of Italy). Spanning an entire year, Fellini settles on Titta (Bruno Zanin), a schoolboy with a crush on the stunning Gradisca (Magali Noel) and a family as loud as a rock concert. Amidst it all are deaths, marriages, secrets, natural disasters and one particularly stubborn family member stuck up a tree. I sometimes feel that Fellini is more interested in the way a dress hugs a woman’s body than he is about being direct about what he wants to say, but there aren’t many directors who will go from a police interrogation scene to a montage of ample posteriors set to the gawking faces of impressionable teenage boys so he earns points for that!
Fellini’s command of visuals is perhaps at his best with Amarcord. Thanks to cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno, there are beautiful moments at almost every breath. While an Arabian fantasy sequence appears unnecessary, a gorgeous moment involving the townspeople venturing out to sea to witness a passing ocean liner that has been lit up like the stars in the galaxy is one I was particularly fond of. Likewise the sight of Gradisca in a bright red dress as she walks through a mountain on white snow.
Sometimes with classic directors such as Fellini, a few uninteresting films in a row can stop the desire for further exploration, but Amarcord has inspired me to delve further into this Italian’s oeuvre.