Tuesday, November 09, 2004

#4: Amarcord

Amarcord (1974, dir. Federico Fellini, written by Federico Fellini & Tonino Guerra). This is a movie I've had the opportunity to see in the past and I didn't do it, pretty much strictly because of the graphic design on the poster—the seventies were not kind, as far as fonts go. Anyway, I guess I figured Fellini was right on the edge of being completely self-indulgent in , and I couldn't imagine he got more restrained in his old age. I was wrong, though; this is worth seeing.

Or at least it was worth seeing for me. I'm a sucker for Italian movies; I lived in L'Aquila from 1994–1995, and I miss the country and the language something fierce. So seeing anything shot there is nice for me; I always see something I'd forgotten about. In this movie, it was the obituary posters that people put up on city walls when someone dies. It took me a long time when I got over there to figure out what those were about; being American I figured they were ads, until I read enough Italian to put it together. I also really enjoy hearing the language again. It takes me about twenty minutes to reacclimate myself to it, and then I can understand it again. But back on point:

"Amarcord" is a dialect contraction of "mi ricordo," which means "I remember." Actually, looking at it, the dialect is probably from "a me, mi ricordo," which is the same thing, only even more reflexive. Gotta love Italian. The movie is pretty formless; it covers a year, from spring to spring; towards the end, there's a scene with a banner reading "VII Mille Miglia," which would be April 1933 (thanks, Google!). So let's say it's spring to spring, 1932–1933. Anyway, it's basically a year in the life of an Italian town at that time; there's a teenage protagonist who is in many of the scenes, but not all by a long shot, and although the plot mostly revolves around his family, it's pretty much just one damn thing after another; there's not much progression. I guess that is part of the point with a memory piece like that, though. This would be about ten years into Mussolini's rule, and the war that's on its way kind of hangs over the movie; it's never really mentioned explicitly, but you're always very aware that you're looking at a world that is now gone. The closest thing to it I can think of in terms of tone is In the Mood for Love, although that has a little more of a story (but is also more boring; go figure). Anyway. Fellini being Fellini, there are a lot of abrupt fantasy sequences, some of which are hilarious (e.g., there's a wedding between a fat kid and a cute girl his age, presided over by a gigantic (and really frightening) billboard of Mussolini's disembodied head). Scene for scene, it's pretty entertaining, which is often all I ask of a movie. But I wouldn't want to read the screenplay.

So why give a recommend to a movie with no plot? Cinematography, cinematography, cinematography. Giuseppe Rotunno shot this movie, and it's beautiful. He's worked on just about everything, although his most recent American work is, well, I don't know; maybe it's beautifully shot too, but I'm not going to watch the movies and find out: he did Regarding Henry, Wolf, and the 1995 version of Sabrina. But Amarcord is one of those very painterly 70s films. My roommate says it was probably done with Technicolor's "imbibition" process, a dye transfer that produced really rich colors. The Godfather, Part II was developed with that process, so if you think of the visual tone of that, you've got what Amarcord looks like: very rich yellows, and the whole screen kind of glows; it looks like everything was shot right as the sun went down.. Grab just about any still from this movie and it will look good. I'm not usually a nut for cinematography, and I'm much less of one now than I used to be, but man did Giuseppe Rotunno nail this.

Last thing: Fellini: not a fan of the Twiggy-style woman. And very much into the ass. I knew that from , but he really goes overboard in this one.


Rog said...

Glad to hear the Fellini is a fan of the ass. I'm definitely going to have to check Amarcord out now. I hate to say it but I don't think I've seen a Fellini film yet. Btw, I think you left off the RECOMMEND text at the beginning of the review.

isopraxis said...

I'm right with you. This is one of my all time favorites - it just unfolds so gracefully and moves as if instead of plot, it is driven by the wind. I absolutely adore the scene in the fog when the little boy is going to school. But there are so many other beautiful things to watch in this film; the auto race, the town slut, the lying peddlar, the rotund tobacconist. . . Gradisca!

Viva Fellini.

Matthew Dessem said...


It's been so long since I saw this, and your comment makes me miss it; I gotta get my hands on the new version.


jpb said...

very rich yellows, and the whole screen kind of glows; it looks like everything was shot right as the sun went down

Oddly, my memories of this film (maybe ten years since I've seen it) are all in black and white. Maybe it was the TV I watched it on?

Matthew Dessem said...

Must have been the tv; it's definitely color.

Anonymous said...

Enjoy your site. Bookmarked it a while ago and am finally embarking on the same journey (minus the blog). Amarcord is my favorite of the first four. Maybe it's my 100% Italian ancestry, but I connected with it from the first strains of that Nino Rota score. I watched it a second time and there is a lot to be gained by a repeat viewing. Beautiful images, plotless but never pointless which is a neat trick to pull off. The 1967 essay, My Rimini, by Fellini, included in the new version, gives some interesting insight into the genesis of the film.

Matthew Dessem said...

John B.,

Good luck watching these! I'm looking forward to seeing the new version of Amarcord sometime soon.

steve roberts said...

I loved the comentary track on this one. It explained a lot of the italian context to me, and I really locked on to Fellini's combination of oppressive learning institutions and grotesque bodily behaivior. Hence the peeing on the floor scene in the school.

I loved the scene where the entire town boats out to watch the ocean liner go by. It was whimsical and fun.

I didn't love the scene with the tobacconist. It scared me.

Matt P said...

I got too see a great print of this film last week in a theater and loved it. It looks great on the big screen!