Film Notes: Amarcord

Tova Gannana | Monday, June 5, 2023

Film Notes: Amarcord

Amarcord (1973) film notes by Tova Gannana for Greg Olson’s Life is a Feast: The Cinema of Federico Fellini at SIFF.

I remember,
those are pearls that were his eyes.

T. S. Elliot, The Wasteland.

Pearls come from the sea; primordial, they stir both memory and desire. In Amarcord (1973), the memory of a seaside town is told by many narrators. Interesting then that “A m'arcôrd” is Romagnol slang for “I remember.” Set in the 1930’s, the town celebrates together the end of winter by burning a witch doll on a pyre, disciplines the minority socialist party members at the police station, taunts the local prostitute Volpina (Josiane Tanzili) with lewd remarks, and educates the school children in catechism and avoiding sin. The townspeople live within ear shot; their conversations travel, they both help and turn one another in.

In place of a voice over, a popular cinema technique in the 1930’s, a man called The Lawyer (Luigi Rossi) speaks directly to the camera, reciting ancient facts about his town. Sometimes snow is thrown at him. We don’t see the perpetrators; we hear their jeers as they aim to interrupt him. He seems to be arguing a case. Yes, fascism has taken over with Il Duce as Prime Minister, but there is more to the day than the present. We also belong to the past with its fallen empires slipping into memory and lessons. Don’t give up on us yet, The Lawyer seems to be saying.

The film goes around like the calendar, beginning at the end of winter as puffballs float through the air and closing with the first snowfall. One family slowly emerges from the crowd. They are shown separately and then together, three generations breaking bread in their cramped kitchen. Titta (Bruno Zanin), a fair haired teen, causes heartache and worry for his parents Miranda (Pupella Maggio) and Aurelio (Armando Brancia) who are socialists. One night Aurelio is taken to the police station and made to drink castor oil by fascist party members. Miranda waits anxiously for Aurelio outside their gate, a shawl hanging from her shoulders. Amarcord shifts from comedy to tragedy like storm clouds brewing on the horizon. Like a bad memory the changing winds cast a fog over the last part of the film. One morning Titta’s younger brother walks to school through the mist. A truck passes him; a family is being transported. Who is the family in the truck and what is their fate becomes a historical question.

Amarcord travels between memories both personal and national. Titta’s family vacations in the country. They bring along Titta’s Uncle Teo (Ciccio Ingrassia), a resident of a psychiatric hospital. After lunch while the others are resting, Teo climbs a tall tree. He won’t come down. He cries to the heavens. “I want a woman,” he shouts. The leafy branches shake. Teo throws rocks on the people below. They are a family in crisis.

On a sea made of cellophane, the townspeople row out to greet the Rex, a cruise liner resembling the Titanic. The Rex, a symbol of hope, is strung in lights and sways above them. Teo and the Rex are related. They are unreachable. The Rex sails on. No one boards. Teo returns to the hospital with the doctors who have come to retrieve him. His family cannot change his situation. Miranda falls deathly ill not only because of the stress of her family but because a sickness has befallen her town and country, the continent and our world.

There are certainties we can be sure of, the sun setting and rising. Once we could be sure of seasons, flowers blooming after spring rains, not in the middle of winter. A m'arcôrd, I remember, the blue numbers tattooed on the arms of the elderly at my synagogue in Minnesota. Fellini made a personal film about his memory of growing up in the 1930’s in a seaside town. With this act he gives room for us to walk out into the daylight or starry night with the refrain, I remember too.

  • Date: June 5, 2023
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