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Friday, June 14, 2013

Blogging the Hulu Plus Criterion Collection: Amarcord

Amarcord

Now we reach Federico Fellini. Amarcord was a staple on the Foreign Film shelf of the old VHS stores. It was a title you could always find though it didn't carry nearly as much weight in film studies circles as La Strada or 8 1/2. Film buff trivia: Roger Corman was one of the film's original US distributors.

Amarcord (I Remember) is a very typical Fellini film. It's visuals are nothing short of stunning. The story is very loose and the characters are often grotesque. There are plenty of fantasy sequences. This film is what Tim Burton was going for when he made Big Fish. But even though Amarcord has its faults it's still miles better than Big Fish.

The story is about life in an Italian town during the Mussolini years. There are several characters but the main one is Titta, an adolescent boy who is a stand in for Fellini himself. The movie tracks a year in the life of the village starting with Spring when the puffballs float in the air. It ends a year later with the puffballs returning.

Describing the story doesn't really do this film justice. It is a visual feast starting with the big bonfire sequence at the very beginning. The film is alive with color and camera movement. There are certain scenes like a boy's journey through a fog that recall the Italian horror films of Mario Bava and Dario Argento. There's an incredible scene when the entire town sets off in boats to see a giant ocean liner pass by. There's a melancholy scene where Titta and his friends dance in front of an abandoned hotel.

There are some elements that are a little harder to take. Sex is a major part of this story as it is in a lot of Fellini's work. And the objects of Titta's desire are both beautiful and repulsive at the same time. The strange thing is there are characters in the story who are much more conventionally beautiful yet Titta's eye is never on them. Instead he fantasizes about a shop owner with huge breasts. This lady eventually gives Titta all he can handle.

There's his school teacher who is also well endowed but has a glare like Dracula. Then there's Gradisca, who is famous in the town for making love to a prince. She's the most idealized of the sex fantasies. And the movie ends with her marrying and moving away from the town. Like 8 1/2 Fellini is acknowledging that sexual attraction can go in some strange places. It's strange yet also relatable.

There's a sequence depicting a fascist celebration that is funny but a little disturbing. One boy fantasizes that the giant Mussolini face made flowers comes to life and marries him to his secret crush. But immediately after this scene Titta's father is taken in and brutally questioned. Mussolini's regime was responsible for a lot more and it ending pretty horrifically for the Italians yet that part of history isn't present in this film. The story takes place during a single year. It might have been in the inter war period. But still it feels a little like the film is purposefully ignoring that section of history.

Anyone interested in cinematography and editing needs to see this film. Fellini even at his worst is an amazing visual artist who inspired a generation of other top notch filmmakers. The story is a little too loose and episodic. It's doubtful this script would find many takers today.

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