Directed by Federico Fellini
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec Running Time: 123 minutes
Audio: PCM 1.0 Italian
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: February 8, 2011
Review Date: February 9, 2011
Federico Fellini’s remembrance of things past may not rate quite as highly as Marcel Proust’s autobiographical tome of that name, but his Amarcord certainly ranks among his all-time great achievements. A memory film about life in an Italian town during the 1930s, it’s alternately hilarious, moving, erotic, and nostalgic in all the right ways, and it recreates a time and place just about as well as any movie ever made. While its very essence keeps us just the tiniest bit at bay with its slice-of-life treatment of a dozen characters (unlike Fellini’s richer, more character-intensive masterpieces like La Strada), you can’t help falling under the spell of this town and its citizens as they celebrate holidays, weddings, and momentous events together and yet also diverge amid the impending reign of the Fascists in Italy during that period.
Though Fellini insisted the village in the film was not his native Rimini, it seems very clear that that’s the intention of the movie. One of his closest friends Titta (Bruno Zanin) and his family are the focal points for the narrative as we experience a year in the lives of these people, beginning and ending with the coming of the “puffballs” which signal the end of winter and the commencement of spring. Afterwards, we witness town rituals of all kinds: the communal bonfire where the “Winter Witch” is burned, the Fascist army marching through the town as most of the village (but not Titta’s father (Armando Brancia) or mother (Pupella Maggio)) either take part or cheer them on, reminiscences by townsfolk about the village’s most alluring sexpot, the hairdresser Gradisca (Magali Noël), a memorable country outing with Titta’s disturbed uncle Teo (Ciccio Ingrassia), pranks in the classroom and on the streets, a triumphant celebration of the passing steamship Rex, and an unexpectedly deep winter snow which for one magnificent moment displays nature’s beauty in its many facets.
Fellini has directed these scenes with such thoughtful construction and intricate detail that one might swear he was filming real life. Everything seems natural and authentic, not something concocted on Stage 5 at the Cinecittà studio. Titta’s first real encounter in a sexual situation, with the heavily buxom tobacconist (Maria Antonietta Beluzzi), where he doesn’t know what he’s doing but he’s enjoying it just the same, is one of cinema’s most uniquely genuine moments, and once tender and comic, and the movie is filled with similar situations (Fellini’s fixation on butts and breasts, well known in the past, is particularly brazen in this movie). Fellini certainly doesn’t flinch from the unpleasant either as Titta’s father is made to answer before Fascist leaders for not coming out in support of their rally and then soiled in disgrace for his disobedience. Family quarrels, even death, must be shown and dealt with giving the movie that much more a sense of realistic legitimacy.
Performers across the board are terrific, but several do stand out. Magali Noël in her third Fellini film is a memorable Gradisca, and both Pupella Maggio and Armando Brancia are completely believable as Titta’s parents, loving but sniping from years of living with each other’s eccentricities. Giuseppe Ianigro has a gentle air of resignation as the grandfather. Bruno Zanin is a wonderful Titta, not the juvenile delinquent his mother thinks he’s becoming but just a teenaged boy with raging hormones and a set of friends that he often goes along with in their pranks without any real malice in his heart. Josiane Tanzilli as the town prostitute Volpina seems as if she’s to be a major player in the story, but she disappears from the movie before it’s half over.
The film has been framed at 1.85:1 and is presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is superb in this transfer and color is richly saturated without ever blooming, not even the reds of Gradisca’s iconic coat and dress. There is a stray speck here and there, a couple of hairs, and black levels which aren’t the blackest they could possibly be, but none of that matters when viewing the splendors of most of this excellent transfer. The white subtitles are easy to read for the most part. The film has been divided into 25 chapters.
The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) uncompressed audio track mixes the dialogue, sound effects, and Nina Rota’s tremendous score into a surprisingly effective mono track. Though there is a small amount of light crackle to be heard in some early scenes during their quietest moments, most of the age-related noise has been handled to perfection by Criterion’s engineers leaving us with the best the movie has ever sounded on home video. There is an alternate English language dubbed soundtrack (Dolby Digital 1.0) as an audio option, but I didn’t listen to it other than to check to see if it was there.
The audio commentary is by two film professors who are scholars of Fellini and Italian films: Peter Brunette and Frank Burke. It’s an interesting, scholarly approach to analyzing the movie and one Fellini fans will definitely want to hear and savor.
All of the bonus featurettes which are video in nature are presented in 1080i unless otherwise noted.
“Fellini Homecoming” has friends and colleagues discussing the factual and fictional parts of Amarcord in a fascinating 44 ¼-minute piece which makes a sensational companion to the original film.
Actress Magali Noël speaks for 15 ½ minutes about how she was cast in the role of Gradisca (she was not the first choice) and her working relationship with Fellini.
There is a step-through section of Fellini drawings for characters in the film and comparisons to the actors who were cast in those roles in the movie.
“Felliniana” is a step-through section of still photographs (black and white and color) of Fellini and the cast and crew working on the movie and poster art for various releases of the film. Also in this section are four radio ads each running 2 ½ minutes.
Two audio interviews conducted by radio personality Gideon Bachmann are presented. The first is with Federico Fellini (speaking in both Italian and English) which runs 30 ¾ minutes. A second series of interviews with Fellini’s mother, sister, and assorted friends runs 59 minutes.
There is a restoration demonstration assembled for the last DVD release of the movie which runs 5 ¼ minutes. However, the “after” shots in the demo have been upped to the current 1080p resolution.
One deleted scene is presented which runs 3 minutes in silence.
The American release trailer which is in poor shape compared to the film transfer for the movie runs 3 ¾ minutes.
The enclosed 63-page booklet contains the chapter listing, cast and crew information, some color stills from the movie, an essay on the film and other Fellini works by film professor Sam Rohdie, and Fellini’s 1967 essay “My Rimini” which he wrote years before Amarcord but which he drew from for sequences in the movie.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
4.5/5 (not an average)
One of Federico Fellini’s four Oscar-winning foreign language films, Amarcord comes to high definition with its brilliance in writing, directing, acting, and production clearly intact. The bonus features are marvelous, and the entire package comes with the highest of recommendations.