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The Criterion Collection: Amarcord

Federico Fellini's delightful Amarcord (1973) is everything that's exemplified by the descriptive "Felliniesque" — weird, sexy, funny, crude, beautiful, political, and in all ways marvelous. A satirical remembrance of Fellini's own youth growing up in provincial Fascist Italy ("Amarcord" translates as "I remember"), the picture embraces the eccentric nature of the human condition in a way that only Fellini at the top of his form could convey. Accompanied by Nino Rota's exuberant score, a revolving cast of absurd-yet-believable characters trip lightly in and out of the story — Titta (Bruno Zanin), Fellini's teenage alter ego; Titta's hot-headed father (Armando Brancia), who wears a Socialist necktie to Fascist rallies; his cheerfully libidinous grandfather (Giuseppe Lanigro); and his institutionalized lunatic uncle (Ciccio Ingrassia), whose pleas of "I WANT A WOMAN!" are answered by a midget nun. Titta's obsessed with the town beauty, a hairdresser named Gradisca (Magnali Noël), who dreams of marrying a movie star but settles for something much more mundane. These characters, and several others, come together in Amarcord to make the small town of Fellini's memory the movie's central character, and he presents it lovingly — dandelions dance in a spring field while the townspeople gossip and scheme, building bonfires and dancing with unrestrained joy. It's a political film as well, but the politics are filtered through the memory of youth, with the Fascists presented as pomp and showmanship, whose rule is enabled by citizens' child-like abdication of responsibility. In one iconic scene, a number of townspeople set out in small boats to catch sight of a much-heralded Italian ocean liner, which dwarfs the tinier craft like a New York City skyscraper before sailing on past and disappearing over the horizon.

Amarcord is, perhaps, the most popular of Fellini's films because it's so accessible, appealing both to fans of the director's early work like 8-1/2 and La Strada but avoiding the indulgences of his mid-career films like Fellini's Roma and Satyricon. It is, in fact, a film that even those who don't think they like Fellini can enjoy, full of hilarious laugh-out-loud moments (including a generous helping of jokes centered on flatulence and belching) as well as scenes of awe-inspiring beauty and poignancy. Fellini once said, "My films from my past recount memories that are completely invented," and there's little doubt that the larger-than-life characters in Amarcord are composites of real people from the young Fellini's life, condensed to their comic, licentious essence. Yet they ring utterly true, and the joyful, bewildered, sexually-charged memoir of the director's teen years is as faithful to the adolescent experience as 8-1/2 was in its child's-eye point of view. It's nostalgia of the very best kind, devoid of sentimental goo while illustrating the crazy, chaotic, sometimes surreal nature of real life.

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Criterion's two-disc DVD release of Amarcord updates the restored version on their 1995 LD and 1998 DVD versions (Amarcord was Criterion DVD #4, for those keeping score at home) with a brand new restored high-def digital transfer and a truckload of bonus material. A new-to-this-disc restoration demo shows the improvement between this DVD and the earlier version, thanks to a new interpositive master print made from the original negative created by Technicolor Rome and improvements in digital editing technology — it's crisper, cleaner, and brighter, with considerably less noise and impressively sharp definition. The monaural Dolby Digital audio is equally good (Italian or dubbed English, with optional English subtitles). Disc One offers an interesting, if a bit dry, commentary track by film scholars Peter Brunette and Frank Burke; a deleted scene (of the Contessa calling for help to retrieve her ring that she lost in the toilet); and the American release trailer. Disc Two features the restoration demonstration; a wonderful featurette, "Fellini's Homecoming," about the director and his home town (45 min.); a delightful new interview with Magnali Noël about working with the notoriously finicky Fellini (15 min.); a gallery of Fellini's drawings depicting characters in the film; "Felliniana," a collection of stills and radio ads; and audio interviews with Fellini, his friends, and his family. The set includes a 63-page booklet, which offers the full text of Fellini's 1967 essay "My Rimini," about his hometown, and an essay by film scholar Sam Rohdie. The attractive quad-fold case is decorated with colorful caricatures of the film's characters, with a paperboard slipcover.
—Dawn Taylor

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