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For Your Consideration: 'Amarcord'

An invitation from the Italian Cultural Institute at the Italian Embassy brought the opportunity to revisit a film classic, at a screening of Amarcord on Wednesday night. Federico Fellini's coming-of-age film is based on episodes in his own childhood, growing up in Rimini, a beach town in the Romagna region of northern Italy. The title is a word in the Romagnol dialect that means "I remember," and it is peppered with the colorful characters and language of the director's youth. It captures the dualities of life in Italy as he remembered it, rooted in the present -- the struggles of Titta, based on Fellini's childhood friend, and his adolescent band to grow up -- but also yoked to something timeless. The cyclic process of life is traced from the first sign of spring, floating puffballs, through the rites of the seasons, to the next return of the same floating puffballs.

The screenplay, co-written by Fellini with Tonino Guerra, touches on all the things that made life in this crazy Italian town, called Borgo but fairly transparently Rimini, so memorable, both joy and sadness. Pieties of all kinds are skewered -- those of the Catholic Church (a priest who can barely focus on hearing teenagers' confessions), those of the pagan past (the burning of an effigy representing the death of winter), and especially those of the Fascist government -- but those same pieties are shown respect, too, for their power in the imaginations of people. Rimini plays host to a host of zany personalities, representing all human weaknesses -- a clinical nymphomaniac named Vulpina, a pompous historian who serves as narrator, a whole Hogwart's full of eccentric teachers, a local beauty who is the closest the town has to a movie star. In the end, though, the film comes to rest on the bonds of family, centering on Titta's loud, argumentative family, who berate one another in some of the funniest scenes but who are as tight as glue. Dying of tuberculosis, the first question Titta's mother (Pupella Maggio, so strong) asks her son and husband when they visit her in the hospital is whether they have eaten.

In one particularly touching sequence, the family takes an uncle for a day trip from the sanitarium -- it is implied that a childhood illness left him mentally disabled -- out to the family farm. In one of the film's many expressions of the indomitable nature of the human struggle, he climbs a tall tree and refuses to come down, shouting "Voglio una donna!" (I want a woman!). Although the film is in one sense a broad comedy -- some of the most hysterical evocations of the endless capacity of teenage boys for lust and mayhem -- it reaches for the infinite, too, in a way that made Fellini's work so highly regarded. A once-in-a-century snowstorm hits the town, during which the local nobleman's peacock flies into the piazza. A symbol of both masculine vanity and of immortality (the bird's flesh was believed to be incorruptible in the ancient world), it shows its plumage in one of the few silent moments not covered by Nino Rota's beautiful score.

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