Federico Fellini is at his gloomiest when dealing with individuals (as in Otto e mezzo ), and his happiest when dealing with gangs, packs, crowds.
A magnificent scene in Amarcord is devoted to recording the diverse movements of every member of a community towards a beach. Propelled by Nino Rota's music, the entire world flows and sings in rhythmic fusion. And, ultimately, Fellini will mark the end of a day and of a wedding ceremony – as well as the end of his reminiscence (and thus his film) and even the end of an era – by slowly emptying a long shot of its formerly teeming mass of humanity.
Amarcord ("I remember") is the least grandiose and most immediate of the maestro's later films. It deserves to be rated among the twentieth century's finest screen memoirs. It offers an extraordinarily lyrical and vivid succession of vignettes, inside a narrative structure which is the most subtly rigorous of Fellini's career.
It is the least obviously modernist of Fellini's films of the '60s and beyond, eschewing the sorts of self-reflexive games that fill Fellini's Roma (1972) or Ginger and Fred (1986).
Even though the figure of the boy Titta (Bruno Zanin) is obviously his alter ego, Fellini builds a generously fractured mosaic that belongs to no one central character or even the on-screen narrator (the old, amateur historian who is a typically Felliniesque figure of fun) – a palpable influence on Scorsese's epic chronicles of criminal life, Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1996).
Amarcord uses certain time-honoured, classical devices (such as a progression through the seasons) to great effect, to wheel through a large variety of modes from the comic to the melancholic.
Like many autobiographical tales written or filmed, this one weaves the innocent, blinkered viewpoint of children into its wider social context, which here heralds the reign of Fascism in Italy in the '30s.
Poignant indeed is the gap, gradually revealed to the viewer, between the hints of violence and social exclusion to come (especially in relation to the Jewish population), and the life-affirming high jinks of youth.
But children are not the only ones duped, for the politics of Fascism comes to the adoring masses as showbiz – a giant head of Mussolini is paraded through the streets in an especially brilliant sequence poised between comedy and mordant social commentary – and mixed up with the glamorous images of the silver screen, as shown in a heady fantasy sequence happening within the head of town belle La Gradisca (Magali Noël).
Fellini's comedy, refreshingly, goes to the outer limits of vulgarity in a number of hilarious scenes centred on urination, masturbation and breast worship, revisiting the peculiarly Italian form of the teen or twentysomething movie genre which he vigorously pioneered in I Vitelloni (1953).
Fellini's style, sometimes too baroque for its own good in works such as Fellini's Casanova (1976), is here streamlined into a pure, exalted poetry of mist, flowing camera movements, pastel colours and lightly artificial set design.
A triumph of artistic form, its emotions are direct and affecting.
© Adrian Martin April 2003