In Amarcord, which translates into “I Remember,” Federico Fellini offers whimsical reflections of his childhood growing up in the seaside town of Rimini under the Fascist rule of Benito Mussolini. This cinematic memoir focuses on many of the town’s inhabitants over the course of about a year with some characters breaking the fourth wall to tell the story in one of the filmmaker’s most engaging films.
White puffballs drift in the wind through the skies of the seaside town Borgo as Amarcord opens. They signify “winter’s dying and spring is on its way.” Many residents gather for the traditional festival as an efigy of an old witch is paraded through the town and placed in a large bonfire. Here we meet many of the film’s lead characters.
Titta (Bruno Zanin) is a teenager who finds himself attracted to local beauty Gradisca (Magali Noel), an older woman many a man finds himself attracted to as well, and many other townswomen as he changes from a boy into a man. Titta’s father is Aurelio (Armando Brancia), a construction foreman who is one of the few people in town not happy with the way the Fascists run things. He is frustrated by the shenanigans of his son, but his wife babies the young man.
There are a number of memorable supporting characters as well such as the buxom tobacconist (Maria Antonietta Beluzzi), the school’s teaching staff, Volpina the prostitute (Josiane Tanzilli) and Titta’s chubby friend Ciccio (Fernando de Felice), who has an unrequited crush on Aldina (Donatella Gambini), who won’t give him the time of day.
A number of events bring the townspeople together over the year. We see them at weddings and funerals, an annual car race, and the spectacular passing of the SS Rex, a transatlantic ocean liner built by the Italians. Many people took boats out to witness the ship go by and take pride in its majesty and the work of their fellow countrymen. Though obviously shot in a studio, the movie magic used to create the Rex scene adds to the dreamlike nature of the whole film.
The puffballs return as the film comes to a close. A number of characters’ lives have been drastically changed, but most in the town will continue on as they have been. Fellini creates one of the few home movies that you want to watch over and over, and he makes you slightly jealous you grew up somewhere else.
Criterion gave the film a 1080p / MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at 1.85:1. The colors come through in strong hues. Gradisca’s red dress stands out as Fellini intended it to. Blacks are solid and help contribute to the contrast. There are sharp lines and the details come through quite well, particularly the weathered walls, bricks and cobblestones that make up the city. Thankfully, no aliasing is seen from the latter two.
Grain is evident and gets more noticeable during dark scenes or the ones filled with fog. At 16 minutes, as teacher talks about renewed Italy during a thunderstorm, the grain is so pervasive it looks like characters are engulfed in smoke.
The mono Italian soundtrack delivers as well as it can. The remastering work results in a very clean listening experience. The dialogue is balanced well with Nino Rota’s delightful score
Criterion offers up quite a number of informative extras. The commentary track was recorded in 2006 by film studies professors Peter Brunette and Frank Burke, the latter wrote Fellini’s Films. Together, they deliver an enjoyable conversation about the film and Fellini, covering subjects like why revisit Rimini, why he focuses on Fascism, the relation to other films, and his use of women.
In “Fellini’s Homecoming” (SD, 45 min) there are interviews with friends of Fellini’s youth, like Luigi “Titta” Benzi, who one of the main characters was based on, as they talk about Fellini’s relationship with hometown. Cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno is also interviewed and offers very good insight. In Italian and French, with optional English subtitles.
Actress “Magali Noel” (SD, 16 min) also appeared in Fellini’s Satyricon and La Dolce Vita. She talks about working with him and how she got the role. “Fellini’s Drawings” (HD) is a gallery of sketches Fellini drew and their real-life counterparts in Amarcord. “Felliniana” (HD) features Amacord production stills and four U.S. radio ads from collector Don Young’s archive.
The “Gideon Bachmann Interviews” are audio interviews led by critic/filmmaker Gideon Bachmann with “Fellini” (31 min) and Fellini’s “Friends and Family”(59 min), featuring his mother Ida, sister Maddalena, and childhood friends. Photos appear on screen while the interviews run.
“Restoration Demonstration” (HD, 6 min) compares the 98 DVD release and the new print created made for the 2006 DVD from which was used for the Blu-ray. Also show the restoration improvements that were done. The lone “Deleted Scene” (1080i, 3 min, 1080i) is a soundless one and deals with the Contessa losing her ring down a toilet. Also included is the U.S. theatrical trailer (HD 4 min) and a 64-page illustrated booklet containing Sam Rohdie’s essay “Federico of the Spirits, and “My Rimini,” a collection of reminiscences by Fellini.
Amarcord is one of Fellini’s most enjoyable and most accessible films. It offers a charming look back at his youth through his memories and was so well executed it won the won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, and was nominated for two others: Best Director and Best Writing, Original Screenplay. There’s no wonder why Criterion got the film into its collection so early as its spine number (#4) indicates.