Federico Fellini's dream-like recreation of a year in the life of a Fascist-era provincial Italian town turned out to be his last significant box office hit, and also won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1974. Shot at Rome's Cinecitta studios, the bawdily amusing Amarcord dispenses with a traditional plot in favour of a series of communal set-pieces - a spring bonfire, a visit from a government dignitary, a trip to see a giant ocean liner, and the marriage of local beauty Gradisca (Magali Noel).
The title Amarcord apparently translates in Roman dialect as "I Remember", yet this chaotic film is in no way a straightforward recollection of childhood experiences. As Fellini himself once commented: "My films from my past, recount memories that are completely invented." The scatological jokes about masturbation, belching, and farting coexist with an air of melancholy that's maintained by Nino Rota's evocative music. Fellini constantly draws our attention to the fact that we're watching a piece of fiction: the residents' stories are far from reliable, actors deliver their lines to camera, and the elderly narrator (Luigi Rossi) is interrupted by off-screen disruptions.
"AMARCORD CAN FEEL OVERWHELMING AT TIMES"
Amarcord presents a topsy-turvy universe of libidinous grandfathers, crazy uncles, hysterical mothers, constantly bickering families, and dwarf nuns. Sexually frustrated male teenagers such as Titta (Bruno Zanin) fantasise over Gradisca - herself seduced by Hollywood notions of glamour in her trips to the local cinema - and over an enormous-breasted female tobacconist.
Fellini's satire of the Catholic Church - in the figure of the priest Don Baravelli - highlights the absurdity of the educational system and its nonsensical system of rote learning, and it shows how the childish nature of the town's adults facilitates their collusion with the Fascist governing system. The raucousness of Amarcord can feel overwhelming at times, and you may not entirely share Fellini's love for these larger-than-life characters. Yet there are still images to treasure, such as a peacock emerging from the fog, the collective wonder at the vision of the great ship (represented by a cardboard model!), and finally the bittersweet aftermath of Gradisca's wedding.
In Italian with English subtitles.