“Saint Louis cries when you touch yourself.”
There’s something familiar about English speaking period pieces. Even though I may not have been alive to experience Australia, America or England pre 1980, there are so many movies, TV shows and books dedicated to these times and places, that they rarely seem weird or foreign. We understand the political climate, the social rules, the pop culture references. But when these same periods are transported to a non English speaking country, I realise it’s like a whole new world. Which was what lead to all the most enjoyable and entertaining bits of Amarcord.
In a small Italian village in the 1930s, the locals get ready to celebrate the end of winter and the beginning of spring with a bonfire in the main square. Bratty kids and teenagers run amok, and adults don’t act any more mature. There’s an infectious joy in the air. This is the story of a community and a specific moment in time, told mostly through the eyes of the teenaged Titta (Bruno Zanin). Titta and his friends (for some reason played by a bunch of dudes who are all at least 35) spend their time finding various ways to slack off at school, and (not always so) discretely alleviate their growing frustration as they try to figure out the opposite sex. All the while, Italy is changing in the background, as Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Party becomes more and more dictatorial.
It’s amazing to think of just how much happened to Italy and the Italian people in such a short amount of time. In this nostalgic view of the 30s Italy, the fascists and Mussolini are seen as a bit of a joke. Almost like the regular Italians saw them as a novelty. With an attitude of, let them march around and wear their silly uniforms, they’re goofy but ultimately harmless. But only a few years later, those fascists were forcing the country into the wrong side of a world war.
Then, a decade or two after that whole thing, you get the glamorous, cool Italy of Frederico Fellini’s most recognisable work. The exquisite suits, the sweeping cigarette smoke, the sunglasses at night, the amazing parties of movies like 8 ½ and La Dolce Vita. With so much happening in his country in his life time, it’s no wonder that Fellini felt the need to recreate the Italy of his adolescence. To show just how different the country, its people and life in general were when he was a kid.
Maybe if this was in English, set in America, Australia or England, it might seem a little self indulgent, nostalgic and filtered through lenses way too rose coloured. But it’s not set in America, Australia or England. Its Italian location gives a whole new perspective to an era that I never seen thoroughly documented before. Amarcord maintains Fellini’s childhood world view, while harnessing his adult film making skill.