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The Criterion Collection presents
"The whole town is laughing at us—even the roosters!"
DVD ReviewAlthough Fellini has denied the story to be autobiographical, Amarcord (I Remember) is a fictionalization based on characters from the director's childhood experiences in Rimini, Italy, adapted from a collection of reminiscences penned while the director was hospitalized in 1967 believing he was facing his final days on Earth. The film presents a series of vignettes occuring over the course of a year, creating an exaggerated portrait of Italian life in a small seaside town filled with eccentric characters during the Fascist reign of the 1930s. Throughout the spectacle of this coming-of-age story there is a sense of loving nostalgia. The humor is often bawdy, with bodily functions and sexual undertones abundant. Amarcord earned the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, and Fellini was also nominated for direction and screenplay.
Signaled by the arrival of puffballs, the film opens with spring in the air, as the townspeople gather to bid farewell to winter in the ritual burning of the old witch, set alight atop a formidable pyre. Here in this festive atmosphere we are introduced to the faces we will follow during the film—a teenaged Titta Biondi, his friends and family; the elegant Gradisca, the lawyer (and principle narrator); Volpina, the animalistic seductress. Each adds their own color to Fellini's palette as he paints this picture of the home town of his youth.
While there is no real main character, Titta is the pivotal figure. His home life revolves around a domineering father and exasperatted mother who bicker constantly. School presents a parade of dull instructors teaching even less relevant subjects, and hijinx are frequent. Even under the shadow of Fascism, boys will be boys, as we see Titta and his friends preoccupied with sex and rebellion. Obsessed with the women in town, they leer and jeer, while fantasizing about the women in their lives. Gradisca and Volpina play opposite ends of the sexual spectrum as focal points for the men and boys. Volpina, half crazed with desire, is almost repulsive in her availability. Gradisca carries herself with elegance, commanding male attention, yet is beyond reach for all but the most powerful, dreaming of officers and silver screen icons.
The church is another societal fixture which the boys look upon with irreverence. After mentally previewing his litany of sins (including a humerous self-fulfilment exercise with his companions) in answer to a disinterested priest, Titta downplays his confessions for a lighter penance. If the family weren't odd enough, an outing with an institutionalized uncle provides for even more entertainment.
Central to the film is the environment that nurtured Fascism, and with complicity from school teachers to the church, the village is swept up by the ideology. Fellini symbolizes the god-like presence with the arrival of the federales appearing through a haze of smoke, Gradisca's fantasies or Titta's classmate daydreaming about marrying the girl he idolizes in front of a giant flower-covered image of Mussolini. Representing those resistant to the new order is Titta's father, Aurelio, who despite being virtually imprisoned by his wife for his beliefs, is singled out and humiliated by the regime.
As a film based on memories, Amarcord is more concerned with impression than being a re-creation of specific events. Fellini wanted to avoid realism, his players charicatures, and rather than shoot on location had the town of his youth recreated on the sound stages of Cinecittą under the art direction of Danilo Donati. The film is filled with striking images, expertly captured by cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno. Many scenes are deliberately artificial, as evidenced by the ocean of plastic as awestruck spectators gather at sea to witness the sailing of the hulking oceanliner, Rex, an encounter with mythical beings (cows) emerging from the fog one morning, or the tales of goings on in the Grand Hotel, with princes and harems. The line between reality and imagination is often blurred, and many of the sequences, such as Titta's sexual encounter with the buxom tobacconist, or Gradisca's tryst with a foreign dignitary are left open to speculation.
Amarcord winds its way along, following no real course of direction as Fellini strings together the sequences with brief segues or direct to camera narration, yet as a whole these segments gel into the portrait of a community, skewed by childhood bias, but recognizable nonetheless. The return of spring bookmarks the story, as the town and its people are now free to live on in the memory of the viewer.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: If there is one thing to look forward to in Fellini's later works, it is the stunning cinematography, and this new anamorphic transfer translates beautifully. Colors are sumptuous, warm and earthy, with blacks deep and solid. Fine grain looks natural, the image is extremely clean and free of debris, with remarkable detail and no signs of digital enhancement.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: Criterion provides both the original Italian and an English dubbed audio track. Both are clear and free of defects. Fellini's preference to dub all his soundtracks does lend to a few scenes that are slightly out of sync, but this is to be expected.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by film scholoars Peter Brunette and Frank Burke
A number of supplements are included. The first disc contains a feature-length commentary track by film scholars Peter Brunette and Frank Burke. Topics range from the technical to the anecdotal, and provide a wealth of information on the subject's background and production and relation to Fellini's other films. The American theatrical trailer and a deleted scene (3m:03s) can also be found here.
A new documentary , Fellini's Homecoming (44m:16s), can be found on the second disc, in which we hear from childhood friends and Fellini experts on the director's troubled relationship with his home town.
A collection of Fellini's drawings of characters and places in the film are juxtaposed against the actors and locations.
Star Magali Noėl gives her insight into Fellini in a 15m:33s interview.
The Felliniana section contains an extensive collection of still, posters, lobby cards and press book materials along with five radio spots (2m:30s).
Two audio interviews by Gideon Bachman are included. The first with Fellini (30m:37s) has the director explaining himself and his reasons for making films. The second (59m:00s) features his family and friends, who offer a biographical look at the director. Both are set to a series of photographs presented as a slideshow.
If the on-disc extras don't satiate, a 64-page booklet is included in the set. Set against color stills from the film, Federico of the Spirits is an essay on the director and the depiction of his home town. The bulk of this booklet is the collection of rememberances (La mia Rimini—My Rimini written by Fellini while believing he was lying on his death bed in 1967, and which evolved into the script that would become Amarcord. The writings and film make for a fascinating comparison.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsOne of the highlights of Felini's celebrated career, Amarcord paints a stylized picture of small-town Italian life during the Fascist regime of the 1930s. Criterion has delivered a stuning transfer, augmented with an impressive, and more importantly, well rounded set of extras. Recommended.
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