How’s this for weird: I was actually in film school when Fellini’s Amarcord came out. And I was a big fan of Fellini at that time, with both La Strada and 8 1/2 high on my list of the greatest films of all time (8 1/2 is still there). But until Friday night (when I caught it at the Pacific Film Archive), I’d never seen his nostalgic, autobiographical, yet decidedly weird comedy about village life in the late 1930’s.
But it would have to be weird, now, wouldn’t it? You’ve got horny teenagers, confused adults, distracted clergy, and fantasy sequences that include a production number in a harem. But this is Italy in the late 1930’s. Fascism looms over everything. Yet Fellini pictures a comic opera fascism, like that in the first half of Life is Beautiful. The scary-sounding authority figures praising Il Duce seem pompous, but hardly dangerous.
Amarcord succeeds frequently but not consistently. And it succeeds best when it’s just trying to be funny. There’s an early school sequence that’s simply hilarious. But the lack of a story, and the simplistic nature of many characters, slowly wear you down. Although filled with great moments, it’s not a great film.
Two paragraphs back, I mentioned a fantasy scene in a harem–something Fellini had already done a decade earlier in 8 1/2. But 8 1/2‘s harem fantasy tells you a great deal about that film’s protagonist, while Amarcord’s seems to be there just for show. Amarcord is a funnier movie than 8 1/2 (which I consider a comedy–of a sort), but 8 1/2 is a better film and a more pleasing experience.
The PFA screened a beautiful, new 35mm print of the recently-restored Amarcord. It’s coming to the Castro February 27-March 5.