Revered Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini dialed down his flamboyant style for Amarcord, arguably the last unqualified artistic success of his career. A gentle dramedy somewhat in the vein of François Truffaut’s most nostalgic features, Amarcord (translation: “I remember”) provides a fanciful vision of Fellini’s adolescence in a small Italian town during the years immediately preceding World War II. Essentially a loose compendium of colorful episodes woven around the maturation of the lead character, Amarcord tackles a wide range of themes in lieu of a proper plot, so the film requires great patience on the part of the viewer. (In addition to the stop-and-start structure, the movie lumbers through an excessive 124-minute running time.)
Within the picture’s vignettes are moments of humor, insight, juvenile ribaldry, political satire, and warmth. Viewers who are interested in Fellini’s biography and/or this fraught period of Italy’s history will, naturally, derive more from the experience than those merely craving entertainment. Speaking as someone with zero tolerance for the cartoonish style of Fellini’s later films, I can report that I was surprisingly engaged by many sequences, even though I found the movie as a whole underwhelming. Yet mine appears to be a minority opinion—during its original release, Amarcord earned such accolades as the last of Fellini’s several Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film.
Major characters include Titta (Bruno Zanin), a teenager learning life lessons from eccentric neighbors and relatives; Aurelio (Armando Brancia), Titta’s hot-tempered father; Lallo (Nando Orfei), Titta’s lovelorn uncle; Gradisca (Magali Nöel), the town’s most glamorous woman; and Giudizio (Aristotle Caporale), the village idiot who periodically breaks the fourth wall by directly addressing the audience. Some of the re-created memories in Amarcord convey a beautiful sense of community-wide romanticism, like the sequence in which town residents paddle boats into the ocean so they can view the passage of a newly christened Italian ocean liner. Other episodes are more whimsical, such as the sequence of Lallo climbing into a tree and screaming “I want a woman!” over and over, despite relatives’ attempts to talk him down. Predictably, many scenes reflect the director’s fetish for ample-sized women. In one such passage, a massively endowed store clerk nearly smothers Titta to death with her, well, tittas.
Amarcord features so many recurring images and themes that it’s as dense as a novel, which means it’s probably a fascinating film to dissect. However, this also means that many elements get short shrift, notably the political commentary. Still, cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno and composer Nino Rota help create unity, and the spirited performances lend vitality. Thus, even though the film’s simple pleasures occasionally get obscured by nonsense (such as a pointless musical number in a harem), Amarcord may be the most accessible and worthwhile of Fellini’s ’70s movies.