Federico Fellini, Amarcord (1973) - infoh.us “Amarcordâ€‌ for...

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Transcript of Federico Fellini, Amarcord (1973) - infoh.us “Amarcordâ€‌ for...

Federico Fellini, Amarcord (1973)

Norman N. Holland

Enjoying: Share Fellini's fun with the exaggerations and the endless preoccupation with sex.

People read the title Amarcord as I remember in the local dialect of Rimini, the town on the

Adriatic where Fellini grew up and the lets-pretend site of this movie (although it was mostly

photographed at Cinecitt). Accordingly, people think of this movie as autobiographical, as

reminiscences of Fellinis adolescence. But he objects: Im always a bit offended when I hear

that one of my films is autobiographical: it seems like a reductionist definition to me, especially

if then, as it often happens, autobiographical comes to be understood in the sense of anecdotal,

like someone who tells old school stories.

Rather, Amarcord for Fellini means a way of thinking that is doubled, controversial,

contradictory, and basically the coexistence of two opposites, the fusion of two extremes, such as

detachment and nostalgia, judgment and complicity, refusal and assent, tenderness and irony,

weariness and agony. It seemed to me that the film I wanted to make represented all this.

I think Fellini is right, that his film does present a doubled way of thinking, and of course he

presents it in his episodic, circus-y style. He gives us a succession of events in one year in the

life of this town. To show us the whole town, he uses a big cast, and it helps to know some of

them before seeing the picture:

Titta. The fifteen-year-old hero (Bruno Zanin)

Gradisca. The town beauty, adored by Titta (Magali Nol).

Aurelio Biondi. Tittas father who has an explosive temper (Armando Brancia).

Miranda Biondi. Tittas equally furious mother (Pupella Maggio).

Lallo. Tittas uncle, a Fascist layabout (Nando Orfei) pampered by his sister, Tittas


Teo. Tittas crazy uncle, Aurelios brother, usually in an asylum (Ciccio Ingrassia)

Volpina. The town nymphomaniac (Josiane Tanzilli)

The lawyer-narrator. One of several characters who speak directly to the camera (Luigi


The tobacconist. Her incredible breasts become Tittas sexual adventure (Maria

Antonietta Beluzzi)

Back to the film: Another title I wanted to give it was Il borgo in the sense of a medieval

enclosure, a lack of information, a lack of contact with the unheard of, the new. In this vein, one

recurring image in Amarcord is fog or smoke, a visual emblem for the superstition and ignorance

of the people of Rimini. The Church and the Fascist regime and the dreadful schooling all

compound this ignorance.

Adding to the confusion are the nicknames. Nobody goes by their right name. Everybody is

addressed by a nickname usually based on some body feature like Nose or some obscenity like

Patacca (= cunt) or some striking incident like Gradisca (=Please do, based on her night

with a visiting prince). The nicknames limit the social circle of the townspeople to the

townspeoplean outsider cant figure out whos who. Further confusion comes because all the

local institutions set out to persuade the kids that Fascist Italy really embodies the glories of

ancient Rome, that Fascist Italy is young and ancient.

Young and ancientinterestingly this was a phrase Fellini used in 8 to describe the

cleansing Muse his hero so desperately sought. Here the words belong to the bosomy professor

of mathematics as she ecstatically applauds the regimes identification with antique Rome. Lallo,

one of the vitelloni (=big calves) who have found a berth in the Fascist regime, translates her

praise into a testicular obscenity (in the best manner of Silvio Berlusconi or Donald Trump).

More indoctrination and confusion comes from mass culture, especially the movies. In one

key scene Titta feels his way up Gradiscas thigh as they both are watching a movie, Beau Geste

(Wellman, 1939). Mass culturemovies, this moviesets Gradisca to looking for her Gary

Cooper (in his Foreign Legion uniform no less). Titta and his buddies sit in an old car

masturbating to fantasies about movie actresses. Dance music helps Tittas uncle Lallo seduce

middle-aged tourist ladies. Sex is inflected through pop culture.

Sex. Sex drives this whole film. The opening scene shows the arrival of manine, airborne

poplar seeds that mark the beginning of spring. We go on from there to an ancient fertility ritual,

the burning of the witch of winter. And then we see the sexy teacher of math, the men admiring

the new women coming to the brothel, the priests preoccupation with the boys masturbating,

Tittas loafer uncle making out with the middle-aged tourist women at the Grand Hotel, Tittas

crazy Uncle Teo high in a tree shouting, I want a woman. Then comes one sexless interlude as

the townsfolk go out to sea to see the ocean liner Rex. But we come back to sex with Titta and

his pals dreamily waltzing as they fantasize about women at the Grand Hotel, Tittas effort with

the hefty tobacconist, then reality with the death of Tittas mother, and finally the years cycle

comes to an end with the return of the manine and Gradiscas marriage to her balding, pot-

bellied Gary Cooper, a carabiniere, one of the regimes enforcers. Throughout, we have

watched the boys lusting after every female culminating in Tittas escapade with the big-breasted


As T. Eliot summed up life, Birth and copulation and death. Via sex, we have journeyed

through fantasy and reality as Fellini develops universality. He systematically takes us through

air, fire, earth, and water, with piss and shit thrown in for good measure. More tellingly,

Amarcord deals with a human universal, adolescence.

Two things define human adolescence: sexual desire and growth in size. One can hardly miss

the theme of sex in Amarcord, but changes in size are all through as well. Fellini began his career

as a cartoonist and caricaturist (the word literally means overloaded). The caricaturist

exaggerates a facial or bodily characteristic, Obamas ears or Kim Il Jungs babyface. In

Amarcord Fellini has that kind of fun exaggerating. He gives us big bottoms, big bosoms, and

big bombast from the Fascists. Think of the grand Grand Hotel or the gigantic Rex towering

ominously over the little boats from town or the huge breasts of the tobacconist or the massive

snowfall or the motorcyclist roaring through town with incredible speed.

The least explicit but most startling instance of size is the way Fellini has interpreted a big

national political movement through individual psychology, here a perpetual adolescence. Fellini

has spoken of the perpetual adolescence that led Italians to fall for Mussolinis fascism. And

one might understand the preoccupation with size as referring at some deep level to that part of a

man that grows in size in response to sex.

In this connection one striking instance of exaggerated size is the huge liner, the Rex, towering

over the small dinghies of the townsfolk. Historically the regime touted Rex as showing

fascisms technical ability on a par with the builders of the Queen Mary, the Bremen, and the

Normandie. But Fellini lets us see that this Rex is really a cardboard cut-out floating on a sea of

plastic sheeting.

In short, this is a film that looks at adolescence, both real adolescence and the perpetual

adolescence of a small town kept childish by the church, the schools, the political regime, and its

own foolishness and superstition. Really, then, what Fellini has created is a study of a universal

human experienceadolescence, but here its adolescence year after year, leading to an

understanding of fascism as a kind of comic exaggeration.

Is anyone in this picture really grown up? What is so wonderful about Fellini is the way he can

so ridicule these people and even show contempt for them and enlist us in that contempt, and yet

at the same time, love them. That is truly amazing. It is what makes people love Fellini and go on

loving him years after his death.

Enjoying: Yes, see it again! Enter into the minds of these adolescents and adolescent grown-ups.

Share Fellinis sympathy and tolerance.