Amarcord Review

The Film

Amarcord was one of Federico Fellini's most successful movies as it garnered both critical acclaim and commercial success. Criterion have chosen to revisit the film, which was one of their first dvd releases, and have delivered a sumptous package to rival the treatment extended to films like Ugetsu and the recent Seven Samurai re-release.
Narrative is often an over-valued virtue in film, and in describing Amarcord it is impossible to describe a single thread of narration as the film is a mixture of dreams, reveries, and imaginings. Many of the tales that are told are decidedly tall, but what unites the many stories and characters is the strong sense of caricature and charm. Fellini's movie is honest, warm and humane and an uplifting experience that less charitable viewers may find nostalgic and over sweet.

Little is taken seriously and Fellini revels in a deliberate irreverence. He marvels at the young kids' pranks and the whole proceeding has a rarely found ribald quality which is very childlike. Fellini systematically debunks the world of adults: Politics is shown as a silly game played by fascists using laxatives as punishment for unpatriotic acts, whilst anti-fascists poke fun rather than indulge in outright revolt. Other respected professions are also sent up -the attempts by the lawyer to be an earnest storyteller are barracked and interrupted by snowball fights. If a film about remembrance sounds rather serious, I have to say that Fellini's approach is far from it as here his subjects are practical jokes, teenage kicks, farting, and women's backsides.
Amarcord is then an enduring doodle that celebrates life, love, and beauty, and it is made with an exquisite eye for caricature and composition. Much of the imagery created in Amarcord is laugh out loud funny or exquisitely precise in its satire. For example, to take a picture of themselves the town fascists collect rapidly on some steps which lead nowhere, their pointless urgency rendering them figures of fun. Similarly, the tale of mad Uncle Teo who gets stuck up a tree shouting "I want a woman" is full of visual gags like the dwarf nun who finally gets him to come down.

It is hard to overestimate Amarcord's influence on pieces like Cinema Paradiso and indeed the whole career of Emir Kusturica. It is also difficult to forget how much damn fun the whole thing is, how effortlessly the film flows from tale to tale when other films would meander indulgently. The film has a beautiful sympathetic score from Nino Rota and a wonderful cast of great faces and character actors. Amarcord is masterful – part wishful thinking, part rose tinted spectacles, and part unreliable memory. Fellini made deeper films which had more to say about meaning and art, but Amarcord is his finest celebration of the nonsense of living.

The Discs

The high definition anamorphic transfer is an improvement on previous releases. The colours are truer and the amount of noise in the transfer is minimal, but there are moments at the beginning of the film in the town square and at the wedding feast at the end which are quite grainy. These are quibbles as the presentation is superb with fine colour balance, a very sharp image, and excellent contrast levels. Audio is provided via an English dub and the original Italian mono. The very top of the treble in some of the music feels slightly distorted and there are small soundtrack noises during the film, but the voices always sound clear and crisp. The English subs are excellent, always grammatical and sensible.

For extras, the boat has indeed been pushed out with a 2 disc treatment and boxset including a 65 page book. The first disc is taken up with the movie and a commentary is offered from film scholars Frank Burke and Peter Brunette. This disc contains a US trailer and a deleted scene with no sound which features the towns sewerage man hunting for the Countess' ring. The second disc includes Fellini's Homecoming which explains how Fellini didn't want the town in Amarcord to be too closely identified with Rimini, his own hometown, and how he eventually came to realise his hometown's pride in him. There is also a new interview with Magali Noel who tells tales of Fellini avoiding award presentations, and we get to see Fellini's sketches for his characters.

The final directly Fellini extras on the discs are a photogallery and interviews between Gideon Brachman and the man himself. These audio interviews are a bewildering mix of language problems and obfuscation by Fellini. I tend to think they are less useful than other director interviews you will come across, but they are probably par for the course for this difficult director. The disc is completed by a Criterion restoration featurette. The book included here has an appreciation of the film by Sam Rohdie, but best of all is Fellini's own essay, My Rimini. Fellini writes about many of the events show in Amarcord - Gradisca, the Fascists and local life. Amarcord may not completely mean "I remember" but this 1967 essay shows how much of the film was recalled from his own past.

Summary

Criterion's reissue is a lovely thing. A great job on the transfer, fine sound, an excellent new documentary and Fellini's essay. As a package this is as good a release as Criterion have done, it rates favourably with last year's Ugetsu and you definitely need to purchase a copy.

Film
9 out of 10
Video
9 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
10 out of 10
Overall

TDF SILVER

9

out of 10
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