Amarcord

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #4: Federico Fellini’s Amarcord.

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You can get ex­cel­lent broad-spec­trum treat­ments of this film by read­ing the re­view and es­say I’ve linked to at the bot­tom of this page. I’m not go­ing to give you a broad-spec­trum treat­ment at all, be­cause to me Amarcord is all about mas­culin­i­ty from be­gin­ning to end. The film is def­i­nite­ly a satire and full of po­lit­i­cal com­men­tary, but all of it is seen through a testos­terone lens that it be­comes one of the most com­pre­hen­sive lists of man­ly pos­tur­ing that I’ve come across. This is not a bad thing. Film semi­oti­cists like Christian Metz prob­a­bly love this film be­cause it can come apart and be re­assem­bled in so many dif­fer­ent ways.

There is plen­ty of male lust, the film opens with a spring rit­u­al, where they burn a witch in ef­fi­gy and men prove their viril­i­ty [or per­haps hope to keep it] by jump­ing over the hot ash­es of the bon­fire. The wom­en know that they are the ob­jects of the scopophilic gaze, but in­stead of re­duc­ing them to ob­jects it puts them in a po­si­tion of pow­er, main­ly be­cause the men are so horny that they can’t help but be en­thralled. Every man stops and stares, [and even most of the wom­en as well] when the new whores are brought to the broth­el in town. There’s al­so Volpina [that means fox] who pret­ty much acts like a fox and looks like a fox and is a nympho­ma­ni­ac. Most in­ter­est­ing is Gradisca [a nick­name, which means “Whatever you want” or some­thing sim­i­lar], who has a “rep­u­ta­tion” that no one re­al­ly be­lieves in, and who is still the ob­ject of the most slack-jawed pant­i­ng be­hav­ior on the part of the male pop­u­lace of Rimini. There is al­so mas­tur­ba­tion, mas­tur­ba­to­ry fan­tasies [dur­ing Confession no less [!], and at oth­er times], and a rather dis­turbing scene where the ado­les­cent Titta [a stand in for Fellini, cf. The 400 Blows for sim­i­lar­i­ties] is al­most suf­fo­cat­ed by enor­mous German boobs. Lust is prob­a­bly the most com­mon the­me be­cause the film harks back to Fellini’s own ado­les­cence, but there is more to a man than that.

What else do you ask? Power and vi­o­lence of course! The “sto­ry” of the town takes place while Italy was un­der Fascist con­trol. When the Fascists pay a vis­it we get hero-wor­ship of Mussolini [in­clud­ing a male fan­ta­sy where Il Duce lets the fat kid mar­ry his crush], march­ing about and in­tim­i­da­tion on the part of the black­boots [not boot­blacks] and even­tu­al­ly a lit­tle bit of po­lit­i­cal stron­garm­ing when the Fascists pour cas­tor oil down Titta’s father’s throat be­cause he isn’t a card-car­ry­ing Fascist. Since Italy was con­sid­ered a Fatherland at this point, the fact that the en­tire city goes out to sea to watch the pass­ing of Il Rex [a huge pas­sen­ger lin­er, the Pride of the State!] adds an­oth­er lit­tle cor­ner to the mas­cu­line ed­i­fice of the film.

The most beau­ti­ful and rich syn­tag­mat­ic blah­blah is a scene dur­ing the first snow­fall in win­ter, when a loose pea­cock flies about town crow­ing, lands in the square, and spreads its ar­ro­gant plumage to a large group of men who are watch­ing. I don’t want to talk much about this part, be­cause it is so per­fect­ly done in the film that any oth­er dis­cus­sion of it makes it less than it is. I’ve al­ready said to much about it.

There are glimpses of man­hood be­hind the mas­culin­i­ty, but on­ly glimpses, which is prob­a­bly ap­pro­pri­ate. Titta’s crazy un­cle Teo ends up in a tree, an­guished and vi­o­lent, yelling that he wants a wom­an. When Titta’s moth­er is ill [pos­si­bly from be­ing out on the sea wait­ing for Il Rex all night], we can see the help­less­ness that his fa­ther feels but tries to hide. When she dies, Fellini pulls off an­oth­er mas­ter­ful piece of film­mak­ing by al­low­ing one sob from Titta and a shot of an emp­ty bed be­fore cut­ting im­me­di­ate­ly to the fu­ner­al. Some things are too griev­ous to be ob­served, and the lack of ob­ser­va­tion makes the emo­tion all the stronger. Of course, Titta’s mom isn’t even in the ground yet be­fore he is check­ing out one of his dis­tant rel­a­tives.

There is al­so the gen­tle fa­ther­ly fig­ure of the Lawyer, who gives us a bit of nar­ra­tion through­out the film, the patho­log­i­cal tale-teller Biscelin [who on­ce porked in one night 28 out of the 30 con­cu­bi­nes that a vis­it­ing Emir brought with him] and some dude who we nev­er see do­ing any­thing but rid­ing around on his mo­tor­cy­cle and al­most run­ning peo­ple over. There is al­so a mo­tor-car race [where the fat kid fi­nal­ly gets over his crush, in a to­tal­ly dif­fer­ent type of mas­tur­ba­to­ry fan­ta­sy]. I’m prob­a­bly for­get­ting a few things, but I’m all out of machis­mo and don’t want to write any­more.

Roger Ebert Review
Criterion Essay by Peter Bondanella
The Criterion Contraption’s re­view.

2 thoughts on “Amarcord

  1. During my last year of col­lege I did my film his­to­ry the­sis on Italian ne­o­re­al­ism and Italian por­tray­als of Fascism in film, and want­ed to see more Fellini than I did, but I nev­er came across this one.

    Where did you find this?

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