Combustible Celluloid
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With: Pupella Maggio, Armando Brancia, Magali Noel, Ciccio Ingrassia, Nando Orfei, Luigi Rossi, Bruno Zanin, Gianfilippo Carcano, Josiane Tanzilli, Maria Antonietta Beluzzi, Giuseppe Ianigro, Ferruccio Brembilla, Antonino Faa Di Bruno, Mauro Misul, Ferdinando Villella
Written by: Federico Fellini, Tonino Guerra
Directed by: Federico Fellini
MPAA Rating: R
Language: Italian, with English subtitles
Running Time: 123
Date: 13/12/1973

Amarcord (1974)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Town Flair

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In the second half of Fellini's career, I find myself disliking his phantasmagoric, color films like Juliet of the Spirits and Satyricon, but drawn to his very last films, the sad and playful Ginger and Fred and Intervista. Amarcord seems to be the missing link between them, dancing on the edge of vulgarity and crudeness but pulling back into reflection and beauty.

It's also one of Fellini's most popular films, winning an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film. (Imagine such a daringly personal film winning that award today!)

It's ostensibly based on his childhood, and strapping young Titta (Bruno Zanin) is ostensibly the hero, but it's more the story of a town and all its inhabitants. We meet Titta's short-fused father (Armando Brancia), his crazy uncle (Ciccio Ingrassia) who climbs a tree and won't come down, and the object of Titta's fantasies: the glamorous Gradisca (Magali Noël). Fellini stages several highlights over the course of a year, beginning with the appearance of the "puffballs" on the wind, the signal that spring has come, and ending with a wedding.

The director films some of his trademark weirdos, but also lets his camera linger on dazzling images of falling snow and of a giant new ship sailing within miles of the town's shore. There's also a section about the town's devotion to the country's fascist tendencies at the time, with just a bit of nose-thumbing from Fellini; Roger Ebert, in his brilliant 1974 review, declares that this section has everything to do with the mood of the movie, about how the townspeople are allowed to behave so openly and childlike because all their decisions are made for them (they have no real freedom).

Ultimately, what's so surprising about this film is just how loose and effortlessly enjoyable it is, despite all its ideas and images. It's one of the director's very best.

The Criterion Collection has released this twice on DVD (not to mention an earlier laserdisc release), once in 1998 and a remastered edition in 2006. Now we get the Blu-Ray version, and it's truly stunning, bursting with color and light, and looking like the very best of film prints (with an uncompressed soundtrack). It looks like the extras are about the same as on the DVD: a commentary by film scholars Peter Brunette and Frank Burke, a 45-minute documentary, Fellini's Homecoming; an interview with star Magali Noël, Fellini's drawings, a presentation of ephemera from the film, audio interviews, a 3-minute deleted scene (with no audio), and a trailer. There's also an optional English-dubbed soundtrack. The thick liner notes booklet comes with an essay by scholar Sam Rohdie, and an essay by Fellini from 1967.

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