We continue our trip through Italian cinema as we explore the work of arguably the country’s most prominent directors; Federico Fellini. Over the next four posts I’ll be analysing a quartet of the director’s films all of which have seen him earn nominations in the Best Director category. As I’ll be going backwards through the collection of films I’ll be able to see how Fellini’s film-making evolved and why the academy enjoyed the films he made in the 1960s and 1970s so much. I begin this chapter with a look at one of the director’s films I’m not that familiar with in the form of the semi-autobiographical Amarcord.
Amarcord is given its name as univerbation of a Romangol phrase that literally translates to ‘I remember’ which is apt given that the film is essentially a catalogue of the director’s reminiscences. The film is set in a small village in the 1930s at the height of fascist Italy with the majority of the action seen through the eyes Titta; a young adolescent based on one of Fellini’s childhood friends. There’s not a lot of plot to speak of in Amarcord and instead it’s just a collection of moments strung together by the same group of characters who all happen to live in the same area. Whilst there is an abiding theme of the rise of fascism, the fascist leaders are all presented as rather comic buffoons and this is evident through a very well-constructed scene depicting a march through the village. More dramatic is the way in which Titta’s father is captured and questioned by members of the fascist party due to his prior links to anarchism however, like the majority of the plot threats in Amarcord, this is really never followed up on. The other big theme running throughout the film is that of sex and sexual desire with everyone in the village from the vicar to the schoolboys obsessed with it in one form or another. We see scenes in which the vicar questions all the local lads if they’ve been masturbating and later Titta himself is forced upon by the buxom owner of the tobacconist shop. However all of these endeavours are presented as rather silly and foolhardy which makes the emotional punch of the film’s final scenes all the harder to take.
I do feel like I must have watched some Fellini movies at some point and looking back at the director’s work I’m pretty sure I saw La Strada during my film studies education. Amarcord is definitely a movie that a director could only make after they’ve established themselves as one of the world’s best as it’s a very personal picture and at times one that I found to be a little sloppy. It definitely took me a while to get invested in the villagers of Borgo San Giuliano and because of the wide array of characters I struggled to learn whose story we were actually following. It took me up until the aforementioned fascist march to really understand what Amarcord was about namely looking back at the past in a rather wry and fond manner but at the same time poking fun at some rather big institutions. A lot of the way the scenes were set out felt like like they were exaggerated in a way to make the audience believe like they were drawn from memory. Giuseppe Rotunno deserves credit for his superb cinematography which makes the majority of the characters and scenes feel larger than life which adds to the overall tone of the film. Similarly I really enjoyed Nino Rota’s bouncy score which again had a rather old-fashioned feel to it which enhanced the feeling of nostalgia that I think Fellini was attempting here. At the same time I found the script to be a little baggy at times especially during the sequence that focused on the history of the Grand Hotel as I don’t believe that contributed to the overall story one bit. Similarly I wasn’t that taken with any one member of the cast possibly as they were all tasked with playing caricatures rather than characters that felt fully-fleshed out.
Like a lot of the films on this stage of the blog, I can see exactly why Amarcord was nominated for Best Director and not Best Picture as it’s a film with a lot of directorial flare but not much in terms of story progression or character development. Fellini was beloved by the academy at this point and this fourth nomination came on year after Amarcord won the award for Best Foreign Language feature which I’m guessing has something to do with the eligibility of movies for certain categories in certain years. That being said I think Fellini’s nomination was undeserved only in terms of the fact that he prevented Steven Spielberg from garnering his first appearance in the category for his work on Jaws. The fact that Spielberg was not nominated for Jaws, which was itself nominated for Best Picture, is something I’ve never really understood and this is backed up by the fact he was kept out of the running by Fellini’s effort on a film that I never really warmed to. Whilst I can see the directorial and technical merit in Amarcord it never really did anything for me on a personal level and I’m just hoping my journey through the work of Fellini can only get better from here on in.
Next time we travel back five years for the second offering in our Fellini foursome.