Friday, October 17, 2014

Criterion Collection #4: Amarcord (1973)

Directed By: Federico Fellini
Written By: Federico Fellini & Tonino Guerra
Chaotic, joyful, and over-sexualized to the point of farce, Amarcord is Frederico Fellini's attempt to make sense of adolescence. A semi-autobiographical work, Amarcord depicts a year in adolescents of Titta (Bruno Zanin), a kid struggling with sexual and familial tensions brought on by the political and social issues of Fascist Italy in the 1930s, while also checking in on the lives of the various zany character that inhabit the town of Borgo San Guilanon, a town situated near the birthplace of Fellini.

While there are slivers of nostalgia throughout the film, Amarcord is, at its heart, a biting satire. Whether it be fascism, sexuality, and even the Catholic Church; Fellini mocks it all through scenes both dramatically interesting and comedically ridiculous.

A hilarious scene has Titta attempting to confess his sexual desires to a masturbation obsessed priest, Fellini utilizing the scene to skewer the Church for its repressive attitudes towards sex and inability to connect with the youth. Fascism receives an even more brutal treatment, a scene showcasing Fascist guards shooting down a gramophone playing "La Internationale" in a distant tower, displaying the radicalism and madness of Fascists Italy at the time.

Fellini is a master at constructing scenes that strike a perfect balance between farcical and dramatic. A dinner scene with Titta and his family is highlights this ability. Every shot is extremely busy and dynamic, despite it featuring people literally sitting down for dinner. Fellini is able to effectively also derive a ridiculous amount of tension due to the abhorrently hostile relations each family member has with each other, the scene eventually evolving into a moment of intense emotional rawness for nearly all the characters.

This leads me to the biggest reason why Amarcord is such an effective film: its honesty. Fellini consciously avoids the usual sappy cliches and trappings of family dramas, instead portraying a family flawed at its core. Titta is terrible towards his parents and vice versa, their relationship only reaching somewhat of a peace during times of illness or death. What's better is that the film doesn't cop out when dealing with those problems, foregoing the usual "they love each other in their hearts" in favor of something more grounded and dark, despite it being a film that is often cheery and farcical.

And that would be the best description of Amarcord, a film that, on the surface, is crazy and upbeat, yet has a darker more honest core that fuels those comical elements. Fellini has constructed possibly one of the more the more unique contraptions I have seen in awhile: a film that's message is so at odds with its tone that you still are left wondering whether Fellini is pining for the times of his childhood or scorning them. Possibly a little bit of both?

Rating: 4/5
Coming Up Next: Thirst (1949)


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