For some of Fellini's most ardent fans, "Amarcord" (1973) strikes a perfect "amour chord," drawing them into its loving, eccentric portrait of a small Italian town in the 1930s. More skeptical viewers might think that Fellini's greatest accomplishment was leveraging the power of his name-brand to convince art-house exhibitors to book two hours of fart and piss jokes.
That is an exaggeration of course, but then again "Amarcord," even more so than most of Fellini's films, is an exercise in exaggeration. Inspired by childhood memories of his home town of Rimini, Fellini populates his imaginary city with a series of heavy (sometimes grotesque) caricatures, most of whom are obsessed with a wide spectrum of bodily functions. Those somewhat less concerned with secretions spend most of their time shouting at each other, then shouting and shouting some more because, after all, the louder and longer you shout, the more people listen.
As his career went on, Fellini generally drifted away from structured narrative to more free associative stories. The events in "Amarcord," spanning roughly a year (marked by changes in season), are united by character and place rather than a single through-line, and the film unfolds as a series of spectacles: a fascist parade (complete with a giant prop of Il Duce's head), the night-time passage of a massive (cardboard cutout) ocean liner, and a surprise snowstorm that blankets the town for days. The locals take everything in stride, equally amused by fascist clowning and Biblical weather anomalies. It's just the way they roll in Rimini.
Titta (Bruno Zanin), a teenager decked out in ill-fitting clothes five years too young for him, is the nominal protagonist, but this is an ensemble piece which spends time with his bellowing parents, his fellow students and a series of, shall we say, robust (Fellini-esque) women, most likely memories of the formative lusts of the director's childhood. "Amarcord" is generally translated as "I remember," though its exact meaning is somewhat ambiguous, but Fellini was careful not to rely on literal recreations of his youth, always pitching the film as a cartoonish alternate reality designed for universal appeal rather than a specific evocation of time and place. The events take place in the 30s but aside from markers such as clothing and the fascist displays, it has a timeless air.
Your appreciation of "Amarcord" will likely rest on your affinity for its histrionic characters. I find little charm in distorted female portraits such as the feral nymphomaniac and the horny tobacconist (a large woman with large appetites), and my tolerance for shouting (did I mention the non-stop shouting?) is probably lower than most. But the film has its moments of sharp humor such as when the slightly-vain Gradisca asks people to guess how old she is, and a man deadpans "52." And every Fellini film has its share of breathtaking tableaux. A beautiful sequence in which the characters wander through a fog so thick they can't even tell when they're standing in front of their homes is particularly striking.
"Amarcord" was one of the first films ever released by Criterion (Spine #4) and was re-released with a restored Standard Definition transfer in 2006. This high def remaster (presented in 1.85:1) is taken from the same source and shows the expected improvements over the SD, with slightly richer colors and more detail in general. Fellini favored actors with very expressive faces, and the sharper detail really comes out in the numerous close-ups of these unique faces. Grain is solid. I wouldn't call this an elite Criterion HD transfer, but it's a very good one and there's nothing to complain about. OK, there's one scene at the end where you can see damage in the middle of the top of the frame. I'm sure you can endure it.
The film is presented with a linear PCM Mono soundtrack. The mono track is pretty dynamic and, most importantly, captures much of the range of the legendary Nino Rota's score. Optional English subtitle support the Italian audio. You can also listen to the film with an English dub, but why would you do that?
The extras are duplicated from the 2006 SD re-release.
The audio commentary by Professors Peter Brunette and Frank Burke (author of "Fellini's Films") is both thorough and entertaining (at least from the 20 minutes I sampled).
"Fellini's Homecoming" (44 min.) cedes the floor to several of Fellini's lifelong friends, including the man who was the inspiration for the character of Titta. He and others recount the ways in which their memories jibe with Fellini's film while also emphasizing that the director made up the bulk of the story. They also discuss his troubled relationship with his hometown where some believed Fellini thought himself "too good" for his old stomping grounds.
The "Gideon Bachmann Interviews" include two lengthy audio interviews from the archives of the radio film critic (Bachmann), one with Fellini (31 min.) and one with his friends and family (59 min.), including Fellini's mother.
An interview with Magali Noel (15 min.), who was a last minute choice to play Gradisca, is fairly standard fare but still of interest.
The Blu-Ray also includes galleries of "Fellini's Drawings" (mostly character sketches from pre-production on "Amarcord") and an array of "Felliniana" from the collection of Don Young including many stills and 2 minutes of Radio Ads (in English) for "Amarcord."
The disc also includes a "Restoration Demonstration" (5 min.), a repeat from the 2006 disc but now updated with HD footage, as well as a Deleted Scene (3 min., no sound), and a Trailer (4 min.)
The thick 64-page insert booklet kicks off with an essay by Professor Sam Rohdie, author of "Fellini Lexicon," and a very long essay "My Rimini," written by Fellini in 1967 shortly after a major health scare that prompted him to look back on his childhood.
Movie capsules have adjectives that flash warnings for viewers. For some the word "lyrical" promises a torturous two hours of wondering why the hell nothing is happening. For me, "carnivalesque" is the blaring alarm word and though it describes many of Fellini's films, it is particularly apt here. The cavalcade of cartoonish characters plays as sweet and endearing for many, irritating and tedious for others, or at least for me. Still, "Amarcord" was one of the earliest inclusions in the Criterion Collection for a reason, and I have heard more than a few people describe it as their favorite film of all time.
This Blu-Ray update of the 2006 re-release will be an easy sell for such fans with its strong transfer and rich offering of extras. The presentation leaves little to be desired.