(Italian/French, 1973, color, 124 minutes, 35 mm)
following film notes were prepared for the New York State Writers
Institute by Kevin Jack Hagopian, Senior Lecturer in Media Studies
at Pennsylvania State University:
AMARCORD means "I remember." Like several of Federico Fellini’s films during his middle period (1970s THE CLOWNS, and 1972s ROMA are two of the finest) AMARCORD turns over yellowing leaves from the director’s own past. Fellini’s own boyhood in prewar Italy had seen extremes. In a single year, he had gone from the rigid, authoritarian absurdities of a boarding school, where he had been forced to kneel on grains of maize for hours in silence as punishment, to lovely anarchic days ranging the Italian peninsula in a vaudeville troupe. Out of the vast space between fascism and freedom, Fellini fashioned a career as one of the cinema’s great philosophers of the human spirit. Compelled to understand the long militaristic nightmare through which his country had passed, he set countless everyman protagonists to work within and against the bonds of social control in his films.
Here, Fellini happily skewers some of his favorite game, Family, School and Church. In Titta’s world of teenage rebellion, authority figures are almost hopelessly out-of-touch. Teachers babble on, oblivious to student mayhem. Titta’s family is as raucous and ineffective as the Italian parliament, allowing Titta to live at a tangent from its most "serious" concerns. And when Titta wanders into the confessional, "Father Balosa" (Gianfilippo Carcano) energetically investigates Topic A, but Titta doesn’t seem to share the good father’s concern for his immortal soul, the imminent curvature of his spine, or the possibility of vision loss -- and neither, good naturedly, does Fellini. AMARCORD shows us a boy making his own world out of pieces discarded or castigated by those in control.
In Fellini’s universe, true freedom carries a profound and heavy weight. Fascism intrudes on Titta’s tango with the adult world. The boy is drawn into the seductive world of easy answers and pageantry and power, which Mussolini promises. In an instant, as the weather heats up, the film changes course, and the film now closely questions the comedy it had previously associated with authority; could these preposterous local potentates actually be morally parallel to the plague of brutality which sweeps Italy from out of Rome? It is a deft and daring change of tone.
But amidst political tumult, life goes on, and Titta becomes changed and chilled by the winds of winter, a boy beginning to live the more private life of a man. His interest in the lovely "Gradisca" (Magali Noel), she of the entrancing nickname, has been merely a raunchy obsession shared with the other males of the film. Now it becomes a private pursuit, as Titta’s experience with sex becomes more confusing than the virginal sly winks among he and his friends had ever led him to suspect. In a snowy square, when he is for the first time in the film truly alone, it seems as if his dream of Gradisca’s favors must be realized. .
Titta’s little town is a microcosm for the Italy Fellini had learned to love so deeply in his year of wandering its streets and alleys in 1939. Its flirtations with fascism seem harmless enough, but Fellini makes us wonder how many of Titta’s companions shared his inquisitive spirit, his respect for the surreal, his willingness to finally lead a life separately from the appealing inanities of the mob? And how many would instead march in Mussolini’s terrible shadow, having accepted their ‘training’ without question? Titta’s manhood, hard-earned and lonely, reveals how much of society remains mired in a witless adolescence of the soul.
— Kevin Hagopian, Penn State University
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