In this small seaside village in the Thirties, much of the bawdy, raucous local populace is in thrall to Mussolini's Fascism, to the cinema, and to the rhythm of the seasons. The film opens with the first tell-tale sign of spring, the puffy seeds that fly through the village and inspire the ritualistic burning of an old witch effigy to signal the end of winter and the beginning of spring.
Village life in Amarcord is defined by a number of interesting characters who Fellini presents in vivid detail: the buxom cigarette shop proprietress who all the boys fantasize about; a dirty-minded local priest most interested in hearing about the local youths' sexual fantasies; the town beauty and celebrity Gradisca (Magali Noel); the local whore Volpina; and Titta's own hot-headed, constantly bickering family including his dramatic mother Miranda Biondi (Pupella Maggio). At the ostensible head of the family is Titta's militant Socialist father Aurelio (Armando Brancia) who is outraged by the Fascist celebration that consumes the town and becomes one of the disturbing passages in an often light and comical film. When someone places a phonograph in the town bell tower that plays the Socialist "International," Aurelio is accused of the crime and terrorized by the bumbling but vicious local Fascists.
Amarcord is often a portrait of grown-up culture from the vantage of young boys, principally Titta's group of troublemaking friends. It also targets autocratic and often ridiculous figures of authority including a survey of schoolteachers at Titta's school apparently too wrapped up in their own vanities and obsessions to offer much of an education. Titta's home life is also chaotic and slightly ridiculous, a crowded household where his brother, uncle, grandfather, aunt and parents all live in tight quarters and where his parents constantly bicker. Interwoven with the impressionistic portrait of boyhood and village life are occasional adventures beyond its confines like the brief journey into the countryside Titta makes with his family in the company of his Uncle Teo (Ciccio Ingrassia), a mental patient allowed to leave the institution for the day. Uncle Teo flees the family picnic, climbs a tree and won't come down until the family finds him a "woman." "I want a woman," he plaintively cries from the top of the tree.
Fellini explained his decision not to locate Amarcord in the actual town of Rimini: "There was also a pragmatic reason for me not to admit that Amarcord was autobiographical. If I did, real people who still lived in Rimini would be recognizing themselves or others in my characters."
His collaborator on the script was poet Tonino Guerra born the same year, 1920, as Fellini, in a village very close to Rimini. Amarcord itself was shot at the Italian film studio Cinecitta except for scenes at Rimini's Grand hotel shot at a hotel in Anzio.
With a pace and tone much like Fellini's Roma (1972), a loving portrait of the eternal city, Amarcord reflects something of both Fellini's childhood watching the passing spectacles of circuses of vaudeville acts journeying through his town, but also his grown-up self. During the course of his equally episodic adulthood, Fellini worked as a gag writer for actor Aldo Fabrizi, as a crime reporter and an artist specializing in caricature. Besides his own experiences, Fellini called his wife, actress Giulietta Masina, who he married in 1943 the greatest influence on his work.
Fellini's entry into film came with a collaboration in 1945 on director Roberto Rossellini's Open City (1945). Fellini later made his directorial debut with Variety Lights (1950), which was co-directed by Alberto Lattuada, though his international breakthrough came four years later with La Strada (1954), a heartbreaking portrait of a simple-minded young woman (Masina) who is sold to a strongman Zampano (Anthony Quinn) in a traveling circus. Gifted at playing vulnerable women with great dignity and heart, Masina would later appear in a similar role as a poignant, luckless prostitute in Nights of Cabiria (1957).
In 1960 Fellini brought his most memorable alter ego to the screen in the jaded, glamorous journalist played by Marcello Mastroianni, wandering through a decadent contemporary Rome in La Dolce Vita. That film would go on to become a box-office hit despite its themes of sexual dissolution and frank criticism of Italy, which earned it the condemnation of both the Catholic Church and the Italian government. Fellini's other remarkable worldwide success came three years later with 8 1/2 (1963) again starring Mastroianni as a director with a creative block. Masina reappeared again in a uniquely feminist work about an upper-class housewife, Juliet of the Spirits (1965). Proving his astounding range, Fellini's sexually provocative, experimental, over-the-top Fellini Satyricon (1969) imagines the polymorphous perversity of first century Rome and was loosely based on Petronius's book Satyricon--considered one of the first novels. The film was a creative culmination of sorts, which showed the extent of Fellini's vivid imagination, though he would go on to make a number of other films including The Clowns (1970), Orchestra Rehearsal (1978) and his most heralded post-Satyricon work, Amarcord.
Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1974, Amarcord, was the fourth of Fellini's films to win an Oscar® as Best Foreign Language film. Steven Spielberg, John Baxter recounts in his biography Fellini, had expected to be nominated for Jaws and said of the foreign director's nomination and not his own, "I can't believe it! They went for Fellini instead of me!" Amarcord was both a popular and critical success. "Fellini would never have such a commercial success again," Baxter observed.
Producer: Franco Cristaldi
Director: Federico Fellini
Screenplay: Tonino Guerra (screenplay and story); Federico Fellini (writer)
Cinematography: Giuseppe Rotunno
Art Direction: Giorgio Giovannini
Music: Nino Rota
Film Editing: Ruggero Mastroianni
Cast: Pupella Maggio (Miranda Biondi, Titta's Mother), Armando Brancia (Aurelio Biondi, Titta's Father), Magali Noël (Gradisca, The hairdresser), Ciccio Ingrassia (Teo - the mad uncle), Nando Orfei (Patacca, Titta's Uncle), Luigi Rossi (Lawyer), Bruno Zanin (Titta Biondi), Gianfilippo Carcano (Don Baravelli), Josiane Tanzilli (Volpina, prostitute), Maria Antonietta Beluzzi (Tobacconist).
by Felicia Feaster