A series of vignettes about the people living in a small town in Italy during the 1930s.
A day prior to watching this movie I watched the first Fellini film I’d ever had the pleasure to experience; La Dolce Vita. The film moved me so much that I immediately sought out another of his films. This time I watched Amarcord. The films are very different from each other while still maintaining a similar stylistic choice (and that makes sense given they’re from the same director). The word Amarcord translates to “I remember,” and as that title suggests, this movie is about Fellini’s youth, and the memories he has of growing up in a small town in Italy during the 1930s. The film focuses primarily on one family and the people that they know, but everyone in the town, from the town prostitute, to the fascist soldiers, to the disobedient school children, to the priest makes an appearance in his memories. Many of the characters seem to be almost caricatures of their original selves, made larger than life by overinflated memories.
Some of the things I liked most about this movie were its utter irreverence towards any type of conventionality. This film, much like La Dolce Vita, is a celebration of art, history, and culture, but this film sometimes mixes those elements with the lowbrow humor of adolescent boys. There are scenes where characters talk directly to the camera, giving history lessons about the town and some of the people in it, and then offscreen, another character will make a fart noise. It’s strange and bizarre, and I don’t know how it works so well, but it does. There are other scenes that feature masturbation as a joke, and characters constantly ogle the more voluptuous women in the town. But though there are scenes with that kind of humor, there are also long scenes with people just playing music and dancing. We see a yearly festival take place, and we watch as people get excited to watch a boat pass by their town. This film is really a slice of life; we experience everything the people of that time dealt with, from the rise of fascism to dealing with mental health, to the hopes and dreams of random characters.
There’s a wonderful balance of lighthearted and humorous vignettes mixed with those that are a little sadder, or say something a little more about the human condition. Fellini knew how to write a script and tell a story, even if none of the characters feel incredibly fleshed out. I think that was my biggest issue with this movie, is that everyone just felt like larger that life characters, whereas in La Dolce Vita we spent almost the entirety of the film getting to know Marcello. Marcello becomes a real character, and I actually feel sorry for him and want him to change. In this film, I never really got overly attached to characters. I was happy when some of them continued to reappear in different vignettes, but for the most part, I just felt like I was a fly on the wall, watching event unfold before me.
Another issue I had with this movie was pacing, and that might have to do with the variety of vignettes that we see. For a while, the movie really held my attention, but towards the end, I was wondering how many more vignettes there were before the credits rolled. The film is never boring, but it does start to drag a bit. I kept thinking back to how La Dolce Vita was nigh three hours long, and it felt shorter than this one, which is just over two hours.
The cinematography in this movie was just as good as his previous camerawork. Though he wasn’t shooting the hectic streets of Rome in this movie, he still manages to find a way to keep the frame looking chaotic and busy, but his focus point is never hard to find. There are some wonderful scenes with deep staging and long takes in this film too. Some of the best looking scenes are the character's fantasy sequences. Throughout the film, random characters imagine different hopes and dreams, and in those sequences, Fellini shows his creativity.
This is a very good movie. It won best Foreign Film in 1975, and then in ’76 Fellini was nominated for Director and Writing (I don’t know how this movie was nominated in two different years, but that’s what IMDb is telling me). I absolutely recommend this movie, but I don’t know if I’d start here for Fellini. While La Dolce Vita is a masterpiece; Amarcord is a great film.
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