At the time of writing this, I’ve seen three of the films by Federico Fellini: La Strada, La Dolce Vita, and Amarcord. While La Strada was a serious and somber film and La Dolce Vita has so much substance that it can keep any critic busy for years, my personal favorite is this film. While the film has a Speilberg-esque sentimentality, I can’t help but point to a much different example of film that it better resembles.
There is no actual plot to Amarcord. It is told as a series of vignettes, episodes that all relate to a single point. The connecting factor is a boy named Titta, who is growing up in Fascist Italy during Mussolini’s rule. The actual episodes themselves just detail the occurances in this small, seaside town full of eclectic characters (much like South Park or any number of indie films). Titta’s role is to be growing up in this time and being at an age where he experiences, but never acts upon, sexual desire.
If you could read past my pretentious writing in that paragraph, you know exactly what this is: a teen sex comedy. Considering that this is the same director that has created stark tales of people being sold, an exploration of how the rich live, and a film about having a lack of creative impulse, this seems like the oddest film he’s ever done. That’s where Fellini’s skill comes into play. Fellini has always had a sense of humor in his films: La Strada dealt with street performers and the circus (and being sold as an assistant) and La Dolce Vita took joy in showing the lavish set pieces that the rich encounter regularly enjoy (according to the film). Fellini was not a deep introspective thinker like Ingmar Bergman, a meticulous craftman like Alfred Hitchcock, a grand storyteller like Akira Kurosawa, or a cold genius like Stanley Kubrick. Fellini was always about celebrations and enjoyment. And most of the scenes in Amarcord are celebrations or festivities. It begins with a bonfire to welcome Spring and ends with a wedding. From the way Fellini sets up the film, you would think that all anyone does in that town is celebrate.
The film does have it’s serious moments, as well. The Fascist rally ends with the Fascists interrogating Titta’s father for a gramophone playing a Communist anthem in the town square. And Titta’s mother does die towards the end. However, those just let us know about the bullet-point of the film: Titta. Calling him the protagonist is a bit of a stretch, since the other characters are on screen more than him (you could argue that the lawyer or Gradisca were the main characters more than he was), but his family and his experiences in this town shape the entire film. He grows up, but not overtly.
This film, after all, is more concerned with mocking Fascism and the Catholic Church than showing a detailed coming-of-age story. Fellini’s knack for visuals also help this film. The color choice is very bright and contrasting (like a cartoon). Yet the visuals that seem most iconic are ones which are truly inspired: the giant Mussolini head, the peacock in the snow, the Grand Hotel, the foggy day, and, since this is a sex comedy, the Tobacconist’s breasts (Fellini loves to see those in his films).
Fellini plays the film as nostalgic and nice. That is what the film is. It celebrates a time in Fellini’s life that he still remembered fondly. And we, the audience, appreciate that. The film is a success because we feel what the director feels. And that makes this his best film.
Directed by Federico Fellini
Bruno Zanin, Magali Noël, Pupella Maggio, Armando Brancia