Five Seasons of Fellini
If you are no longer a teenager, think back to the time when you were. If you were to pick one significant year from that time and make it into a movie, who are the people, what are the images, and what are the things that you would want people to know that you felt? Perhaps, you might focus on coming of age, the transition from childhood to adulthood, or the changes that you saw happening in your world. In the 1973 film Amarcord, Italian director Federico Fellini shares five seasons of his youth in a not quite, but probably more than he has admitted, autobiographical extravaganza.
Amarcord (literally, I remember) opens with a feathery score played over light credits that evoke a sense of dreamlike remembrance. Soon the viewer is brought awake in the streets of Fellini’s boyhood hometown of Rimini , where a flamboyantly cultured narrator informs us that the town knows that winter is done when the dandelion puffballs appear. Soon, the townspeople are introduced as they pile wood into a gigantic bonfire in order to burn the witch of winter and celebrate the coming of spring. Many of the townspeople are eclipsed by those who are more colorful such as the town nymphomaniac, the town barber who has composed a new tune on his flute to celebrate spring, and the town beauty who is named Gradisca.
As they dance, make music, burn the witch, and play pranks on one another, the viewer can see that this is a town like many towns. There are neon signs over businesses, saints in the windows, and mischievous boys that are in the process of learning about the fun they can have with women’s bodies…and their own. The priest is not the only one with his hands full as he tries to convince these adolescent boys that they shouldn’t ‘touch themselves.’ Of course they do, in one scene they have a circle jerk in a car parked in the garage. And of course, they all lust after the beautiful hairdresser, Gradisca.
One boy, who we can presume is Fellini, follows Gradisca to a movie theatre and tries to feel her up. She goes along for a while but then busts him. He is embarrassed, but not permanently. Gradisca is in search of love, but not with a young boy. She wants a royal love or perhaps to touch the fascist dictator who marches into town and brings about a bizarre surreal fascist youth wedding. And thus spring ends and the heat of summer begins.
While summer is thought of usually as a time of fun and games, the arrival of the fascists does not allow for such trivial pursuits. Suspected anarchists, communists, and subversives are rounded up and tormented by the fascist brown shirts. This is summer, but it is a summer with war on the horizon and there is no room for free thought. The grossly high cultured lawyer reappears to tell off color stories about the town’s hotel as a stark sort of contrast to the fascist presence. Knowing that he has provided a complex contrasting of emotion, Fellini introduces a crazy uncle, who on a picnic to the country climbs to the top of a tree and shouts “I want a woman!” while throwing stones at anyone who attempts to get him down. He won’t come down until a dwarf nun arrives on the scene and takes him back to the mental hospital. Fellini uses the camera to maximize the height of the crazy uncle in several shots. At one point, the bottom of the frame is the uncles head, which towers over the rest of the family, and the rest of the frame is sky. Perhaps, Fellini is making a statement about the madness of the world when seen from such a high perspective. Or, perhaps, he simply remembers this crazy uncle towering over everyone while he threw stones and shouted what all men must feel at some point in their lives. With a director as complex as Fellini, it is possible to guess about symbolism. However, it is also possible to simply enjoy the feelings that his complex camera work evokes. In any event, this quirky family picnic is an affectionate farewell to an adolescent summer.
Autumn comes quickly and passes even quicker. The events and sensations that it carries are powerful but fleeting. It is a world of night time stories and the entire town loading up on boats to see the pride of Italy , a giant luxury cruise ship, as it passes by the small seaside village. The swaying of the boats, the dancing in the fog, and the sounds of an accordion drifting across the water. It is a time of fumbling and warmth.
Fumbling and warmth can also be found in the incredible large bosoms of the town’s shopkeeper by the adolescent boy who is the centerpiece of the story. With shy awkwardness, he tries to get close to her huge breasts by offering to lift her up. She is willing, in fact, she is willing for a lot more as she closes the shop and forces him to suck her goliath mammaries, almost suffocating him in the process.
And then comes winter with snow, sadness, death, and the burial of the boy’s mother. Two scenes from winter rise above the gloom of loss. The first as the boy looks for Gradisca in the high snow banks in the center of the town. The second is a peacock on the town fountain.
By this point, things have slowed down in the film. There is less detail and more time spent on it. After the agony of winter, the puffballs again appear. Gradisca marries her royal lover, the accordion is played in the field, the town’s people return to their homes, and finally, there is naught but time, left to continually cycle and bring about what memories it might for Fellini, for the members of the town, and for the world.