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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Amarcord (review)

So far, in my 12-plus years as a film critic, Federico Fellini is the only filmmaker who makes me throw up my hands and complain that I just don’t understand, um, all those egghead film critics. I look at a Fellini movie and all I can think of is that TV ad from a few years ago for whatever-the-hell-it-was that aped Fellini-esque imagery of scary clowns and people running in slo-mo on black-and-white beaches and ultimately asked, bewilderedly, “Why are foreign movies so… foreign?” If that means I have to hand in my movie-geek membership card, fine. If that means I’m an uncultured bourgeois American, then so be it. I looked at his 1973 semiautobiographical coming-of-age flick Amarcord — which vaguely translates as “I remember” — partly because it’s getting a rerelease in some parts and partly because the upcoming musical Nine is based on Fellini’s 8 1/2 and I’m trying to get my head around that movie (Nine, that is)… and I just don’t get it. I can see that there is intelligence and intent behind Amarcord, but it simply doesn’t speak to me. (Maybe it’s because I have no Italian in me. I might be almost British, and I could easily be French, but I will never, ever be Italian. No slight is meant to Italians, whose cool I envy. But it’s just not who I am.) A year in the life of a small town in 1930s Fascist Italy, this jumbled collection of scatology — man, Fellini loves him some piss — and young men confessing their sexual fantasies to a creepy old priest and dreamlike sequences of fez-wearing emirs and their white-burka-draped women is simply nonsensical to me. Fascists are idiots, Catholic priests are clowns — I agree with this. So why don’t I feel it? (A British film critic at the time of its release likened it to Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, which could explain it: I frickin’ hate Our Town.) Amarcord was 1974’s Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, so if you’re looking for a Fellini to start with, I guess this could be it. But I cannot in all honesty tell you why. (available to watch in the U.S. on demand from Amazon)


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MPAA: rated R

viewed at home on a small screen

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