Directed by Federico Fellini
Going into Amarcord, I prepared my girlfriend for her first Fellini by saying “It’ll either be a film that alternates between reality and fantasy seamlessly or a neorealist film that truly tries to capture the good and bad of life in Italy.” I didn’t realize that both statements would be correctly.
Amarcord, or “I Remember”, is an incredibly apt title for what is perhaps Fellini’s most ambitious film in scope and character. How else can someone describe Fellini’s attempt to capture the life, inside and out, of a small Italian town during the 1930’s under Fascist rule other than an ambitious endeavor? Yet here, that ambition is more than paid off due to Fellini’s unfliching vision and direction.
This film is life. It is our hopes, dreams, horrors, tragedies, failures, and it never forgets to laugh at itself. This is a very funny film when it tries to be. The garage masturbation scene or the rendezvous with a big busty woman are among some of the best comedy scenes I’ve seen in years. They manage all at once to be funny, character developing, awkward, and nostalgic.
I find it’s labeling as a “comedy” to be a misnomer. The humor is almost always balanced out with the bittersweet or the outright tragic. The handling of a mentally ill relative or the abuse at the hands of the fascist regime are very evocative. These scenes demonstrate a helplessness to the world around these characters, they are victims to things completely outside their control, robbing them of the freedom to be human. The fascists torture an old man because they suspect he played music and said “unpatriotic” things, the mentally ill uncle urinates on himself and hides in a tree, declaring all he wants is a woman. These scenes are handled in a way the feels both absurd and tragically real.
And it is there that I think I find the meaning of this film. Beyond capturing a slice of life and showing a year in a small Italian town, I believe Fellini is showing how all these simple people are just trying to find happiness in an unpredictable world. The opening scene shows these puffballs floating in the air, an even that marks the end of winter in this town. You can feel the optimism and excitement emanating from the people in the town. All hope for good fortune in the coming year. But then life simply happens. There are deaths, there are embarrassing moments, legal battles, religious guilt, mental illness and all those true life moments but the hope is never crushed. The people still manage to laugh and remain optimistic for the coming years.
One of the things that is most striking about the film, as well as the others I’ve seen, is how clearly Fellini’s voice shines through in them. Looking at his works they paint a clear picture of the man behind them. A man that remains critical of the world around him and the fabricated social constructs and choices we make that harm each other, but finds that love, sex, and enjoyment make all that torture worth it.
Another must see. Don’t worry though… I’ll get to my negative ones soon enough.