Federico Fellini, Amarcord (1973) - infoh.us â€œAmarcordâ€ for...
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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
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
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.