Fellini's AMARCORD released by Criterion

You might think a film as classic as Federico Fellini’s AMARCORD (1973) would have found its rightful place amongst the Criterion Collection long ago, but in fact it’s the newest member of the Criterion family, available in Blu-Ray for the first time just two weeks ago. Set in a fictitious provincial town in 1930s Italy, AMARCORD is loosely based on Fellini’s own childhood memories of small town life in Rimini, complete with its many characters and “circus of social rituals, adolescent desires, male fantasies and political subterfuge.”

The film opens as “puffballs” float through the air, the first sign of spring. The town awakens from a cold, hard winter. Boys run in the streets, women strut about and long-dormant sexual desires blossom with the changing of the seasons. Since the film is shot from the point of view of a documentary film crew (who have seemingly traveled there to capture life in a small Italian town over the course of a year, much like The Office, only without the individual interviews), there is no plot, per se, or main character, though we do get to know two people pretty well, Titta, a young high school boy on the brink of sexual discovery and Gradisca, the aging town beauty, still yearning for eternal love.

It turns out that a lot can happen in a small town in a year. Love is lost, love is found, the fascists come to town, families change, people die and everyone seems to be engaged in the perpetual search for self discovery. One of the most moving scenes takes place early in the morning when the town is covered in a thick fog. The boys gather to go to school, but stop in front of the grand hotel, boarded up for the season. As they peer in through the cracks in the doors they hear the music that played across the hotel patio last summer. Each boy becomes either a member in the band or a dancer as they role play a scene from the adult world in a hazy, fog-covered dream state. It’s magical and breath-taking. Perhaps Fellini so acutely captures the mysterious moments of adolescents on the verge of manhood because he set it in the time and place where he himself made this transition. Whatever the reason, AMARCORD blends fantasy into the everyday in a way that underscores the real-life emotions of his characters: in a word, it’s classic Fellini.