Friday, April 3, 2009

Amarcord (Rhoades)

Fellini’s Childhood Memories Are Funny and Poignant

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Solares Hill editor Mark Howell is a big fan of director Frederico Fellini, so I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t grab a front row seat at the Tropic Cinema’s Monday night showing of “Amarcord.”
This surreal Fellini autobiography won an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film in 1975.

A mishmash of political, personal, religious, and sexual memories, this disjointed story takes place in the fictional Italian village of Borgo, a stand-in for Fellini’s real-life hometown of Rimini. The oddball characters and comic situations are his way of commenting on the “perpetual adolescence” of him and his fellow villagers back in the Fascist Italy of the 1930s.

The title comes from a Romagnolo phrase (“a m’arcòrd”) that translates as “I remember.”

The cast is wonderful, if largely unknown to American audiences. Bruno Zanin takes on the role of Titta, the teenage boy we come to identify with. This coming-of-age film shows us Titta's “education” … and at the same time Italy’s incapacity to accept moral responsibility.

“Amarcord” has been called “too crowded, too loud, too vulgar, too bawdy, and too self-indulgent.” Perhaps that’s true, but it’s still one of my favorite Fellini films (along with “La Strada,” “La Dolce Vita” and “8 1/2”).

The film parades forth an array of fools, playboys, politicos, and firecracker-wielding schoolboys – while at the same time skewering Mussolini and the Catholic Church.

As Fellini explained the point of his film, “…What is still most interesting is the psychological, emotional manner of being a fascist … a sort of blockage, an arrested development during the phase of adolescence … this remaining children for eternity, this leaving responsibilities for others, this living with the comforting sensation that there is someone who thinks for you (and at one time it’s mother, then it’s father, then it’s the mayor, another time Il Duce, another time the Madonna, another time the Bishop, in short other people): and in the meanwhile you have this limited, time-wasting freedom which permits you only to cultivate absurd dreams – the dream of the American cinema, or the Oriental dream concerning women … the same old, monstrous, out-of-date myths that even today seem to me to form the most important conditioning of the average Italian.”

Despite this weighty message, “Amarcord” displays a poetic nature, established early-on in the scene where puffballs swirl magically in the air, marking the end of winter, with schoolboys dancing around trying to catch them, a young woman happily watching them as she hangs clothes on a line, and the village idiot reciting a poem about spring.

That night there’s a traditional bonfire to welcome the changing season. Here you meet an assortment of familiar Fellini characters: A blind accordion player, a lusty blonde trollop, a cocky motorcyclist, a gun-toting Fascist, a buxom tobacconist, aging aristocrats, black-clothed women, and a lawyer on a bicycle.

You also get to know Titta’s family: the working-class dad, protective mother, sponging uncle, and feisty grandfather who has fantasies about the maid.

And there are more townsfolk to encounter: local Lotharios following a carriage filled with prostitutes, a sexy math teacher and myopic religion instructor, a dwarf nun, and a street vendor who is an inveterate liar.

You can’t make up characters like this … well, yes, you can. And Fellini did it under the guise of memory.

I gave Mark Howell a documentary about Fellini that summed it up nicely. The bio was titled “Fellini: I’m a Born Liar.”

Nonetheless, when we take memories and pervert them into a fanciful story in order to make a point, we call that fiction. And this is fiction at its finest.

Why would Fellini with his bizarre characters and dreamlike landscapes appeal to Mark Howell? As an editor living in a town populated by eccentric people and a surreal lifestyle why wouldn’t it?
[from Solares Hill]

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