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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Sun, Dec 13, 2009 8:24pm

Amarcord is actually the WORST place to start with Fellini. That came towards the end of his career at a point he was trading off his own mythos and self-importance (think M. Night Shamalyan but more egotistic). A better place to start would be La Strada… which was his earliest award-winning work, and go from there. La Dolce Vita would also be a better pick.

Jan Willem
Jan Willem
Mon, Dec 14, 2009 3:56am

I haven’t seen Amarcord, so I can’t comment on its qualities or lack thereof. However, due to financial hardship I recently resorted to finally watching some of those unwatched highbrow DVDs languishing on my shelves. These included four Fellini films: La dolce vita, Otto e mezzo, Roma and Satyricon. Let’s say that penning a compelling narrative is not one of Federico’s main priorities and that he is in no great hurry to tell his wandering tales. Also the Italian soundtrack frequently comes unstuck from the on-screen acting (in various languages), which is kind of distracting. That being said, all of these films contain utterly hilarious scenes that make it easy to forgive their patchiness. Thus far, the impossibly weird and colourful Satyricon is my favourite, but I still need to watch Casanova featuring Donald Sutherland.
Finally, I’d like to recommend the CD Amarcord Nino Rota (I remember Nino Rota), which contains creative reworkings of Rota themes for Fellini films by jazz musicians. Sadly, it appears to be out of print. This album was produced by Hal Willner, the mind behind the brilliant soundtrack of Robert Altman’s Short Cuts. Stay Awake, the skewered Disney tribute that he masterminded, might make a nice Christmas present for the musically adventurous. (His masterpiece is Weird Nightmare, but I guess a Charles Mingus tribute is off-topic!)

Mon, Dec 14, 2009 5:18am

My list of all time favorite films include Felini but I never enjoyed his work after Otto e mezzo. I think PaulW and Jan made some good suggestions about works to try, and I suggest La Strada, La Dolce Vita, and then Otto e mezzo (his meta-meta masterpiece) to see his evolution and then throw in Satyricon to see where it all headed.

Please do watch 8-1/2: I really think you would like it very much.

Mon, Dec 14, 2009 5:20am

Sorry for all the typos up there – I shouldn’t be commenting at 5 in the morning!

Mon, Dec 14, 2009 7:38am

I have to say, this is not exactly my favorite Fellini, but I always thouht it was definitely his most accessible. I thought immediatly after viewing that it was like a prettier, more fanciful American Pie twenty years ahead of it’s time. But maybe it’s just me. I loved and “got” La Dolce Vita right away but found 8 1/2 shallow and slight, and still haven’t been able to get to the end in two tries. People have said this likely makes me a philistine if not a heretic, so take the above with a grain of salt.

Mon, Dec 14, 2009 10:01am

Part of my family is sort of Italian — not Italian-Americans, but Sicilians. There is a strong, oblivious absurdness that can sping up unexpectedly (to me) in the midst of anything, including a funeral.

Whether or not I can deal with a Fellini film is directly related to my attitude to my family at that moments.

Jerry Colvin
Jerry Colvin
Mon, Dec 14, 2009 10:58am

I liked La Dolce Vita, didn’t like 8 1/2, and *hated* Satyricon.

Mon, Dec 14, 2009 1:43pm

Well, I have seen *La Dolce Vita,* actually — my review is here; I liked it.

*8 1/2* is on the program for this week, before I write my *Nine* review.

Tue, Dec 15, 2009 12:34am

I love this review. Honest and hilarious.

The only Fellini I’ve tried to watch is La Dolce Vita and I had to give up.

In fact, I’ve learnt over the years that I hate Italian films. I can watch anything, absolutely anything (I sat through the entire Cremaster Cycle in one sitting) but every time I sit down to watch and Italian film I’m disappointed.

The only Italian film I remember liking was Life is Beautiful.

Tue, Dec 15, 2009 5:28pm

yeah I did not get the point of this film and asked my Italian teacher about it and she said it’s just supposed to be beautiful (?)

I loved La Strada though that’s a great film she has a wonderful face and La Dolce Vita’s good too

Tue, Dec 15, 2009 5:55pm

I don’t know if I’d call myself a big Fellini fan, but I’ve seen his more well-known titles (five of them) and have strongly liked most of them. What I enjoy is the narrative style — his movies aren’t one story told from beginning to end, they’re mostly a series of episodes. Split them apart, and you’d have, like, half-a-season of a TV show. I think they can be enjoyed that way.

That said, of the five I’ve seen, Amarcord is my least favorite — it feels like Fellini doing a parody of himself. The best might be Nights of Cabiria, a wondrously devastating movie about a put-upon yet spunky woman. MaryAnn, I’d love to get your feminist take on that one. (And I love 8 1/2, but I think you have to dig streaming wacky randomness for that one — but it does have one of the best openings in all movies, IMO.)

Tue, Dec 29, 2009 6:14pm

That ad about “Why are foreign movies so FOREIGN” to me applies more to a film like Bergmann’s “Persona,” which might strike people as stilted and pretentious.

But Fellini in 8 1/2 is vivacious, vibrant, delirious, and yes, heartfelt. It was the perfect culmination of his more phantasmagorical style and it works expressively and meaningfully.

Daniel Giannini
Daniel Giannini
Sun, May 09, 2010 4:51am

This “critic” has all the intellectual power to review films like Iron Man or Friday the 13. He is out of his sphere with Fellini.
All Catholic priests are clowns? What a curious thing to say.

Mon, Sep 28, 2015 7:25pm

amarcord is pure poetry, if you dont fully understand it as it seems in the your critic, it probably depends on the translation and the cultural background obscure to you .. no worries ocean rim is also good ;)

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Gian
Mon, Sep 28, 2015 8:09pm

Ooo, nice burn. You feign ignorance of a popular sci-fi movie — it’s Pacific Rim, and it is good — in order to appear even cooler and extra film-hipster-ish. Bravo, sir!

Nikola Sinobad
Nikola Sinobad
Thu, Jun 01, 2017 10:11pm

You are “an uncultured bourgeois American” :). Just kidding. I think this is a beautiful film, but i came from mediterenean town, and all this random images and memories from Fellinis youth seem so familiar to me. Also, this kind of storytelling and mix of vulgar and sometimes even cheap humor with the painful reality of everiday life (fascism in this case) is characterisitc to Italian and Easter-european cinema of the 70-s,80-s & 90-s (which is heavily inflenced by the Italian cinema. By reading a lot of reviews i came to understanding that a lot of American and British critics dont realy unerstand these kinds of films, even those that praise them.