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Amarcord’ given star treatment in new release

Brian Doxtader | Thursday, November 2, 2006

In the liner notes to the new Criterion edition of Federico Fellini’s “Amarcord,” film professor Sam Rohdie notes that the title derives from the dialect phrase “mi recordo” (“I remember”), an explanation that sheds a lot of light on the classic 1974 Italian film. “Amarcord” is a film about memory, an impressionistic portrait that purposely (and purposefully) eschews realism in favor of nostalgia. As warmly affectionate as anything ever committed to celluloid, “Amarcord” remains one of the director’s finest classics and one of his most enjoyable late period films, now reissued and handsomely packaged by Criterion.

“Amarcord” is a portrait of the Italian village Rimini over the course of four seasons, with Titta (Bruno Zanin) and Titta’s family as the main focus. The film is episodic, with various characters weaving their way in and out of the narrative. Fellini’s affectionate, sometimes bawdy portrayals make “Amarcord” one of his most fast-paced films, bolstered by Nino Rota’s (“8 1/2,” “The Godfather”) fantastic score and a wry sense of humor that punctuates the narrative.

Most of Fellini’s post-“La Dolce Vita” work moved away from realist tendencies, but “Amarcord” scales back somewhat, giving the film an appealing dreamlike quality. “Amarcord” is a film about remembrance, which makes it a deeply personal film for its director. While it may not be quite as strong a picture as some of Fellini’s previous work, “Amarcord” is equally – if not more – entertaining than even his best films. All of the director’s best films say something about the human condition, but rarely has that condition been so close to Fellini himself.

The film is in Italian, but, as with most Italian films of the time, it was shot silently and dubbed later – this is why the mouths sometimes do not appear to be in sync with the words, even in the Italian track. The subtitles, as expected from Criterion, are very good, though it is not unlikely a few choice Italian phrases (most of them vulgar) were lost in translation.

The DVD itself is fantastic. “Amarcord,” with a spine number of four, was one of the earliest Criterion releases, but has been reissued in a brand new two-disc edition. Picture quality is outstanding, especially considering that the film is more than 30 years old, restored in a high-definition digital transfer that is a noticeable step up from earlier versions. The first disc also features audio commentary by film scholars Peter Brunette and Frank Burke as well as a dubbed English track, though the original Italian is preferable.

The second disc contains most of the extras, with a 45-minute documentary, “Fellini’s Homecoming,” as the centerpiece. A fascinating examination of the director and his hometown, “Fellini’s Homecoming” is bolstered by the presence of other extra material, including a video interview with Magali Noel and some audio interviews. The DVDs come housed in an attractive foldout cardboard case, which also contains a 63-page booklet that reprints the 1967 Fellini-penned essay “My Rimini.”

“Amarcord” is perhaps the most consistently engaging film in Fellini’s oeuvre, which is no small task coming from the director of “La Dolce Vita” and “8 1/2.” Winner of the 1974 Academy Award for Best Foreign Feature, it remains a classic and one of the director’s most personal films. Though the original Criterion single-disc was quite good, the re-release is a considerable upgrade. “Amarcord” is a treat for anyone remotely interested in Italian cinema and comes highly recommended.