Rated R for being pretty darned sexual. This is art-film sexual, which I feel is a very specific subgenre. Like, it's all done in this cheeky manner that is meant to get a laugh. But that being said, there is nudity. There is a very odd commentary on prostitution. There are some really weird elements involving consent. It's pretty gross by today's standards, but it seems like Fellini's intention was just to get laughs. R.
DIRECTOR: Federico Fellini
I've almost started this movie a dozen or so times. Part of the issue is that Fellini is one of those intimidating directors. (On a related note: I got my film class back! Next year, I'll be teaching this stuff again. I should use this opportunity to read up on Fellini, but I'm on a roll and it feels like I should keep writing.) But then my wife said that she never watched a Fellini film. More accurately, she's not sure if she's seen a Fellini film. So she picked this one and I got pretty excited.
Amarcord both feels like a Fellini film and drastically different. This is the most superficial read on the movie ever, but the addition of color almost feels like this whole other director is approaching this movie. It almost reads like someone is inspired by Fellini, but decided to make his own thing. But that's a lot on me. Because Fellini is such a talented director and an accomplished artist, it isn't shocking that Fellini is exploring something new with a film that has a very different feel to it. It definitely isn't outside of his oeuvre, but rather just expands it outwards. That's great. And while I can't possibly glean all of the nuance of a Fellini movie from one viewing of the film, I kind of get a lot of what is going on with this movie compared to his other cinema. I'm not going to lie. I did read a bit on this one before writing, so it's not all me. But knowing what the title means and the inspiration behind the film definitely gave me a leg up. (My wife can't help but Wikipedia a film while watching it.)
Fellini's take on memory really is novel. Usually, when I look back at the classics, especially those films that inspire entire genres or tropes, I tend to be a little forgiving. After all, when something inspires a trope, you can't hold it against the movie when everyone else copied off of that. Amarcord is all about remembrance. After all, apparently the title translates out to "I remember." In the best and weirdest way possible, Amarcord is the pre-cursor of the nostalgia film. There's so much baggage to that sentence that I feel like I'll be unpacking it for the rest of this blog. I tend to criticize the nostalgia film. I think I did it with American Graffiti (made the same year!) and Everybody Wants Some!!. It's just that Fellini is making a nostalgia film...about fascism. It's not like Fellini is a Fascist. At least, I'm pretty sure he's not, based on his commentary on Mussolini's Italy. And that's what makes it different than the Americana I'm oh-so-used to. Like Rome, Open City or Paisan, a look back at Italy isn't baseball and apple pie. It's the understanding that things were gross. That's kind of interesting because our nostalgia films tend to gloss over the mistakes we make from a White perspective. But Fellini doesn't exactly wallow in the misery that was unleashed upon the world. It is both a celebration and a criticism of Italian culture.
But the insane part of it all is that apparently it's not his own memory that he's writing from. He's apparently writing about his friend's childhood. I simply assumed that Titta served to be an avatar for Fellini himself. Apparently not. It's his buddy. He's making a film about his friend's memory. That's pretty deep. But the even more deep element of the film is the disbelief that Fellini carries with these stories. I'm about to cheapen everything about the film with what I'm about to say. Without being ludicrous and over-the-top, Amarcord is Big Fish. We don't really know what the true story is or even if there is a true story behind everything. Big Fish is overt with its commentary while Amarcord hides its tall tales amongst reality. And it is almost so much better. There was a time when I would preach Big Fish real hard. I hate that guy now. I'm sure if I watched that movie today, it might be fine. But Amarcord, for all of its artsy-fartsiness, has this gorgeous element of subtlety when talking about memory. Yeah, there's no way that the stories played out exactly like they are described here. But it isn't slapping you in the face with its obviousness. Okay, Volpina is a bit much. But besides Volpina, there's something very organic about how we process memory. Even daydreams become part of our reality.
I'm going to come across as super 2021 American who openly voted for Joe Biden. Fellini uses Gradisca as this centerpiece of the movie. Much like The Sandlot, Gradisca is the focus point for the male gaze. Her role in the film is to be objectified. But Fellini's depiction of Gradisca has something very sad about it. Gradisca, to the boys, is an object of myth. While the Tobacconist is also hyper-sexualized, she comes across an obtainable circus act. But Gradisca is meant to be unobtainable. She is both the most sexual person imaginable, yet the representative of the divine. She is the Greek goddess of sexuality. But Fellini allows her to be human at moments. And in those moments, there's something pathetic about how people treat Gradisca. Yes, she goes around the movie seemingly footloose and fancy-free. But through the eyes of Titta, who objectifies her more than any other character, we see her as someone who is sad and acts as an outsider. Fellini teases the notion that Gradisca might somehow find companionship in Titta's uncle, an odd outsider in his own right. But the film ends with her marriage to a character that I'm pretty sure wasn't in the movie to begin with. He's criminally average looking. Look, I barely have any hair left, but I have more than this guy (at the time of writing this). And I'm not sure if Gradisca is happy with this arrangement. I mean, she's still objectified by the boys at her own wedding. But there's something about simply moving on with life and abandoning this idyllic town.
This might be my favorite Fellini movie. It's been a while since I've sat down and straight up watched a Fellini movie. But as inappropriate as the movie is, coupled with how dated some of the humor was, I found it remarkably funny. I mean, Italian people can be mean. That guy could have burned to death and everyone would have laughed. But still, it's a really good time. It's a gorgeous film and I thought it was a triumph.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.