Friday, January 22, 2010

#4: Amarcord

(Federico Fellini, 1974)

Only after a viewing of this film do I finally realize that Fellini's movies are never really about anything. It's hard to describe what La Strada, La Dolce Vida, or even 8 1/2 is about without resorting to descriptions of the characters. So fine, Fellini makes movies about people, not events or conflicts. There are no conflicts in Amarcord at all, unless you count the desire to get laid, or find love, or live life well a conflict. Perhaps underneath this film there is that undercurrent of Fascism slowly creeping through Italian tradition, set to destroy the continent. But like Italy now, the movie mostly pushes that under the rug, treating it as something foisted upon the small town of the film that represents all of small town Italy, rather than something natural to it. (It's interesting, then, that the original essay for Criterion defined the film almost exclusively in terms of how it related to the fascism of the time.)

Perhaps Amarcord is a tad too sentimental, and I could see the case being made that the anecdotal structure is not strong enough to sustain the film, even allowing for its fundamental nostalgic - and therefore easily forgiven - tendencies. But I did enjoy the film, and I did find it charming and funny. Would I rather watch the three films mentioned above? Certainly. But it's interesting to view this back to back with Army of Shadows, as here are two immensely different films that are perhaps the most personal works of a master's career. They are two films that define what each director's films are truly about at their cores. The fact that I happen to prefer Melville to Fellini is perhaps one reason why I find Melville's film revelatory, while Amarcord seems merely slight and charming, like the town it depicts.

One more thing about this movie: I've lived in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New York, and Boston, so I don't really know what the experience of living in a small town is like. I live a mostly anonymous life, so the scene that struck me most in this film was the evening scene where everyone is out and about and you can tell that everyone knows who everyone else is. It's the kind of experience that is impossible to replicate in a big city. I would be interested to know from someone who has lived in a small city in the US how much this film reminds them of their own experience, or if the movie is stuck to its time and/or place.

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