by Pedro Silva (Camolas)
Mankind has always struggled to transform into words every expression of the human soul. In Portugal we imagined a word, saudade, to define an enigmatic yearning of the heart, a word to express a feeling so connected with our history that is impossible to translate it into any other language. In a similar way Fellini had to find his own neologism. Supposedly Amarcord simply means “I remember”, but we know Fellini was a great liar. I’ll go with the ones that presume Amarcord means the way he remembers the past, whether the memories are true or fake.
Amarcord, the film, is a recollection of those kind of surreal childhood memoirs, delivered as a guided tour through a year in the life of the town of Rimni, from one spring to the next. The cinema of Fellini is always autobiographical in one way of another, degenerated bits of his life and his fantasies. Such courageous personal expression, rarer in cinema than in literature, contributed to his major achievement, he made himself an adjective, “Felliniesque”. The old dictionaries did not have enough words for his genius.
“… and in the end, it’s all about sex!” In a very Freudian approach that is how an old friend use to end our late night adolescent dissertations, no matter what the subject we were on. Fellini feels the same way. Small-town life and adolescent sexuality were already portrayed in Il Vitelloni. Sex can’t be absent or hidden even in a childhood tale, Rimni is filled with muses that inhabit the fantasies of youngsters and adults, offering us an amusing quantity of big curvy butts and outsized breasts. The men’s minds diverge from the sexual repression religion tries to impose.
Someone said once that Fascism was an act of clowns and Fellini seems to agree, he finds those blackshirts very suitable for the felliniesque circus, exposing them as ridicule creatures. Peter Bondanella spoke of the “imprisonment of Italians in a perpetual adolescence” as cause and consequence of Fascism. Fellini has never grown up completely and he shows in his films that many other people around him didn’t grown up either. Adults seem to be immature in Rimni those days, in fact, the absence of role models to the young people is one of the film’s strongest statements. Titta’s uncle on the top of the tree yelling “Voglio una donnaaa!!!” shows no disparity from his family, and he also could be an ordinary personage of La Dolce Vita.
Memory, sexuality, fascism and religion are the driving themes, well… and loud families, dead, pranks and everything else, besides, Amarcord is a non-plot movie. “I am trying to free my work from certain constrictions – a story with a beginning, a development, an ending. It should be more like a poem with metric and cadence” said Fellini. What an easy way would be to rely on a sequence of events or the path of a specific character to drive the action, but life is a mesh of endless stories and can be better understood if we emulate it in that poetic way. Even if it is dissonant sometimes, no-plot is how we live.
Working on those roots requires that every scene and every character has to have a value by itself since they loosely connect with each other, and Fellini made that happen. This is one of the most personal and at the same time most universal movie of the countdown. Reality and dreams mingle in everyone’s memories and the time passing vanishes the frontier between both. Emir Kusturica was one of the most easily identified disciples of Fellini, but it was Woody Allen that plagiarized this approach to childhood memories in the wonderful Radio Days.
In Amarcord Fellini created one of his richer ensemble of characters, who appear and disappear from the screen without the necessity of cutting. Scenes are very short most of the time and we feel like being strolling by ourselves thru the streets. We also meet the narrators by the use of the sguardo in macchina, the Italian 4th wall. The score by Nino Rota is fabulous and more than once he brilliantly dissolves the separation between the soundtrack and music played within the action. The emotions flow with the seasons, from beauty to bitterness, just like in any other childhood.
Fellini likes to expose people at their most bizarre. Rimni, like every small town, has a classical set of individuals, drunks, lunatics, a blind man… the streets are full of eccentric people. Volpina, Scureza di Corpolo, Giudizio, Gradisca and many other seems to embody people I once knew. When I watch Amarcord they all come to me, I remember the crowded squares of my hometown on earlier days and find lost memories of people already gone, I miss the barking of the dogs at night and the sand ground now hidden underneath the buildings, I recall the children going to school on foot and the mothers calling their sons at the windows.
Amarcord brings back all this, it makes me ask what where the most significant moments of my own childhood and how they interfere in what I became. I guess all of us, at a certain age, come to build a nostalgia from places, people and events that disappeared from our daily life. We feel a growing sensation that we are becoming the last guardians of something undefinable, a sentiment that next generation will not understand, images which no photograph captured, moments that only live within us and truths only we possess because they were not even real. Amarcord because “For me, the things that are the most real are the ones I invented.”