Amarcord – II

Photo by Carmela Gross


Considerations on the classic film by Federico Fellini.


Dialogical, epic and satirical

Fellini's anti-fascism – which operates in the analysis of the regime's own spectacularity – unfolds in the progressive construction of a dialogic aesthetic in his work. And, if the fascist language (founded on the mirroring generated by the triad: Family, Homeland and Cinema) wants to be univocal, then that of Amarcord, knowing that it is public, presupposes and encourages replication. This fundamental contrast of discursive regimes will become explicit further on, in the scenes around Rex and in the subsequent incisive rupture (discussed below).

Before that, there are sequences located in the Grand-Hotel (a typical scenario of the so-called “white telephone cinema”, emblematic of the modernizing imaginary of fascism). Sanctuary of the fastidiousness and delights of the arrogant and favorites of the new fascist empire, on a visit to the spa, the Grand-Hotel has the function, in Amarcord, to offer an environment of distinction for sexuality arranged in terms dictated by the regime. Depending on this situation and as a master of ceremonies, the lawyer (dressed as a conqueror of Africa and, moreover, as an elegant seducer, evoking the fascist colonization of Libya and then-Abyssinia) takes the floor, between bows, to address directly to the lens and unravel, between indiscretion and accomplice, legends of the village, supposedly involving Biscein and Gradisca.

Two episodes follow – distinct, but dialectically similar –, also from the general anecdote collection: the first, on the majestic veranda of the hotel, in which the ball attended by the bullocks, in which the Patacca would have seduced a German tourist to the point of obtaining her “fundamental” surrender to his desires, as he stresses to show off.

The other account, in the pastoral and rustic tone of those without access to the Grand-Hotel, deals with the conduct of Uncle Teo, a patient in an asylum, during the family walk in the countryside organized by his brother, Mr. Aurélio, Titta's father who will later explicitly assume the role of narrator. From the top of a tree, the sick man mourns the others, shouting: – “Voglio una donna!” – which then enigmatically ceases upon the arrival of the dwarf nun.

In short, in this series, in addition to a sexual initiative – never natural, but historically circumstantiated – the version current in the village about what happened always emerges, in parallel, however, with a doubtful perspective or manifestation, when not an explicit appeal to the judge’s judgment. public. the narrative of Amarcord it avoids in any way clarifying the occurrence, limiting itself to the representation, in a scenic citation regime, of the widespread rumour; and, as if strange to the intimacy of the deponents, it leaves the most untouched.

Why? Probably because if the narrative investigation were the focus of the occurrence and the opposite of the fibs and foul inventions, it would escape the dialogic regime, to summarily align itself with the unveiling of the relationships and, consequently, steal from the public the critical dilemma of what to do in the face of the rumors crystallized and current. Instead, the priority Socratic (if you allow me to encrypt the question that way), it can be noted, is that of dialogically forming and credentialing the public against misleading passions (mainly imagery) and as a critic of discourses.


Pathology of the pathos of dough

The suspension of such reticence and narrative reservations, as well as the breach of dramatic modesty, however, will come immediately in the scenes that precede the appearance of the Rex, the transatlantic liner regarded as the naval glory of the regime. The population that came in mass gathers impromptu in varied boats and waiting for you in the open air. The lens then ceases to be suspicious of confidences and fantasies, to come and peek – without limits – into the hidden depths of each one. To what end? How to explain the mobility and transparency now displayed? This is, as you can see, a collection of samples from the pathos of mass, in force during the regime.

Indeed, in confidant-style framings, the lens resumes the traditional posture of fascist cinematography, as a mirror of myths and a compensatory device for deficiencies. In this situation, the pathological ties between viewer and image are set up. Thus, as much as in the scene of Ciccio's nuptial idyll with Aldina, staged in fantasy by the former, one observes, in the course of unlimited access to the subjectivity of the characters, the process of contagion between intimate representation and collective sociability, in symbiotic terms sanctioned by the regime. Thus, in the effusions waiting for Rex, as much as in Ciccio's reverie, not the idiosyncratic and singular data takes shape, but the mass psychological clichés, which were current during fascism.

Thus typified the bombastic and mushy populism of the regime's cinema, however, a reversal occurs. At Rex's sight and amid the cheers – Long live the Rex! Long live the Regime! – one can see its flattened profile, made of cardboard or similar, and its simplified cut in the traditional style of North American comics.

The Rex – which, moreover, “is coming from America” – therefore refers to the super-spectacles and the Hollywood matrix of Cinecittà, but the surrounding sea – glimpsed in a quick shot, but clear and surgically incisive, as a narrative cut – shows itself made of plastic material. What to do? Furthermore, the disproportion verified between the precariousness of the improvised and crowded vessels and that colossal and deserted figure, flaunted by the supposed naval glory of the regime, is equally shocking.

Faced with the sample of the mode of contagion and the resulting symbiotic state, the audience of Amarcord faces a dilemma: either adhere to the sweet lullaby of Rex worshipers floating in the open air and the related lure of the pathos orchestrated, according to the approach that mimics the molds of fascist cinema; or she stands out, breaks empathy with the people of the village, and then distances herself from the general posture, somewhere between rapt and passive. The dilemma is surgical and decisive.

In the second alternative, the rapid narrative twist – which cuts off empathy with Rex's admirers – exposes the very structure of the work in its antithetical or dialogic nature. There is a didactic shock, in which the view of the studio's mechanisms as an exposition of the way of doing things, presents itself conflictingly, as a turnaround and a reflexive leap before the preceding segment, for the viewer of Amarcord. In summary, the public, in the midst of the dialogical process given by the coming and going between identification and distancing –, can experience and unveil the instituting relationships of the work; therefore, to work out one's own judgment.

This is not the place to survey the proximity of this type of construction to the postulates of the poetics of Brecht's “epic theatre” (1898-1956). But I observe, in the light of Benjamin's reflections[I] about this poetics, that the consequences of an examination that presents the disparities and disproportions of the components of the melodramatic vortex, such as that provided by the scenic signs indicated, go very far. And, from the outset, they invigorate the public.


Didactic shock and new narrative level

The reversal of the previous perspective – which was in addition to that of the characters – by focusing on the public's experience, also provokes an inner hiatus in each spectator who in fact experienced the shock in his reception process. As a consequence, a judicial apprenticeship opens up.

In summary, the didactic shock before external representations also implies internal laceration or distancing in terms of self-image and the veracity of the products of spontaneity itself, including inclinations. The reflexive activity or inner dialogue thus triggered results in the demand to submit, in oneself as in the other, the spontaneous ability to create representations, innate to humans, to the regime of doubt and confrontation inherent in the dialogic game.

Both didactic and dialogical, it is such a shock that it explains the new narrative step of Amarcord. In this, the exploration of Titta's inner universe or inclinations and supposed spontaneity and his circle will be submitted to the direct scrutiny of the narrative judgment, without the need to explicitly go through the critical dialogue or objectified confrontation with another version. The interiorization or internalization of the critical sieve corresponds to a learning or leap of conscience that installs the narration in a new critical level, for the attentive public. Thus, the following sequences show Titta and the others venting their own inclinations and fantasies, but the narrative focus of Amarcord will promptly propose to the public, through humor, the relativization or distancing of such representations.

In this way, one sees the grandfather, hooked by the fear of death, figuring it out as an omnivorous fog; young Oliva, in turn, projected his fear of school onto the figure of a cow, which appeared in the fog resembling a totem pole; and, still, Titta's group dancing, as if melodically lulled by the famous Siboney (re-read by Nino Rota [1911-1919]), but with empty arms, seducing and ensnaring themselves…

Similar in content, the terms of the narration of Titta's visit to the tobacconist's owner, at the end of the day, are shaped by humor, for a critical reception, already prepared by previous clashes with the current rumors in the village. Between jocular and fabulous, in the distanced key of caricature, the episode of Titta drowned by the merchant's giant breasts, a woman with haughty and independent manners, replaces, like the other records in Amarcord of the erotic games played in the village, clichés mediated and circumstantiated by secret or unconfessed inclinations, and by functions and social roles of those involved. In any case, a common law or mode is distilled from the set of these sequences to govern, in all these cases, the functioning of the spontaneous production of images: it takes place, in the first instance, at the service of inclinations and particular interests.


image making

How to summarize Fellini's redefinition – and according to dialogical requirements – of the natural propensity, often almost instantaneous, to the so-called spontaneity? Intended for the simulation of the intended good, according to particular needs and interests, the correlated spontaneous production proves to be essentially interested – therefore, not as spontaneous as many believe (among others, followers of the memorialistic and fanciful Fellini).

Titta and Ciccio's daydreams demonstrate how an event, such as a car race, can contribute to the formation of a hybrid figure, aiming at intimate satisfaction. Devices for capturing the other, but also the self, the visual representations thus produced guess, point out or outline (in image) satisfaction through the good they are looking for. They are valid as mediation, a kind of credit expectation or promise of possession of the intended object, in short, as a provisional and anticipated form of enjoyment or consumption.

Having individual inclinations and interests as a substrate – eventually socially condensed as collective representations, or, on the contrary, remaining singularly idiosyncratic – every visual form, therefore, instead of carrying an essential value or bringing a truth (as advocated by neorealism), it is born, in fact, as an amulet or compensation. It must, therefore, be submitted at reception to the network of dialogical relationships and against the grain, which results – in the clash – in the inevitable plurivocity of each image or representation. We approach here a self-examination proposed by the narrative of Amarcord? Another cunning of the author? What to expect? The crucial proof, I think, resides in the objective dialogic movement of revealing internal contradictions to the narration itself.

Em Amarcord and in Fellini's work in general, the evidence of the studio – where the act of perception is stripped of all natural quality (see the case of Rex's misleading profile and surroundings) – can be taken as a demonstration of the fundamental process of de-naturalization of the effects of spontaneity. In this way, the supporting evidence (of the provoked effects, opposed to the evidence of the artifices mobilized in the studio) figures and reveals, like a transcendental critical exposition of the functioning of the faculties, the scheme of the perception of each one; that is to say, it presents the fabrication of the image as a power of artifice, inscribed in the materiality of clashes of inclinations and interests.


Criticism versus representation

In short, Amarcord part of a de-naturalization of the visible, demanded by the conflict with the other. It presupposes the dialectical delimitation of visibility, according to stereotypes or “natural falsehoods”, according to pre-conceived and projected objectives due to the interested production of the vision. Therefore, there is nothing and cannot be natural in Amarcord, but everything shows artifice or interpretation, as the swaying of the boats and the sea of ​​plastic around the Rex is exemplary. Carrier of interests, every image derives not from the object, but from the approach.


vision and limit

On the verge of conclusion, the delicate episode of the mother's death demonstratively reiterates the dialogical structure of Amarcord. A crucial angle of thought, it is known, the vision of death constitutes a fundamental moment of self-awareness. In effect, invested with great clarity and dramatic value, one sees death occur or take place in such a way in other works by Fellini – such as La Strada (1954, The Road of Life), La Dolce Vita ou 8 ½ –, in which the autobiographical perspective – and for good reason, self-awareness – counted as a reference, thread or piece of thread in a larger narrative plot (bigger, I insist, because, in one way or another, in one key or another, in fact, what Fellini always did – despite much that has been hastily said to the contrary – it was, in short, the history of late modernization in post-war Italy).

differently in Amarcord, death is presented not as an object of immediate apprehension, but rather as an inapprehensible object, which is only an object of indirect representation. In fact, the representation of death – as an intimate and fundamental experience of a conscience – presupposes the transcendent point of view of a suprasensible observation; they intertwine in an inseparable whole, in this case, self-consciousness and the supposedly transcendent point of view. However, how to Amarcord, according to the materialist, antithetical and immanent dialectic, limited to the conflicting sphere of dialogical intersubjectivity and the clash of interests – in which every form or figure necessarily has the mediation of the other as its constitutive condition?

Indeed, death is referred to step by step, in Amarcord, exclusively in the process of its reception by third parties, that is, in this case, through gaps, ellipses in the narrative or indirect testimonies, for example: by the grave tone of the priest who asks about the patient; for the preventive removal of the loose-tongued father-in-law; by the shrill, cutting speech of a small cousin of Titta; by the attempt of consolation on the part of a family member; by the fainting spell of Patacca, the deceased's youngest brother; by the widower's muteness; for the sight of the sea for the bereaved son, &c. In conclusion, it consolidates, in this way, in Amarcord, in the indirect and incomplete representation of death, the effective recognition of intersubjective mediation; the perspective of alterity is explicitly presented, as a structural principle of the dialogic, materialist and democratic narrative, of Amarcord.


Infantilism and nationalism

The reduction of the symbolic value of the representation of the past or its critical delimitation, another programmatic premise or criterion of the narrative mode of Amarcord, is visualized in the wedding scene of Gradisca. In the eyes of the public, this appeared from the beginning of the narrative as a condensed evocation of types such as Gina Lollobrigida and Sofia Loren. Thus, it carried the excessive value of the paradigm of the “eternal feminine” in Italian style. Finally joined to one carabineer, as the plot dictates, with the same name as the apostle-narrator par excellence (Matteo), and who demonstrates jubilation by chanting in the fascist way – “Viva l'Italia” –, therefore a herald of fascism in the town or village, Gradisca reveals itself, as a value under critical review, an emblematic or mythological representation of “beautiful italy“; that is to say, from the country tutored by the Church and viscerally linked to nobility, provincialism and authoritarianism – in short, the peripheral and backward country, referred to by the ironic nickname of Italian, by Fellini and Pasolini (1922-1975), among others. It is therefore and conclusively redefined, in vernacular form, fascism as a mass narcissistic mode, or of affirmation and socialization of infantilism on the scale of the nation.


get rid of yourself

For the teenagers, Gradisca's wedding means critical revisiting and breaking with the past, as it implies disconnecting from the correlated matrix of femininity. In Titta's heart, Gradisca is equivalent to the idealized image of the mother; this is what the exchange proposed by the montage suggests, in the scene of the ice labyrinth that unfolds and follows the brief exchange of words between him and the priest, who asks him about his mother's health. In summary, Gradisca updates and responds in echo to Titta's childhood wishes, still active in her transition to adolescence. In this sense, soon, after the experience of the definitive absence of her mother, as a good thing for herself, Titta becomes aware of Gradisca's marriage, that is to say, in this case, that she, by choice and act, had decided on another: the carabineer Matteo.

As the public can follow, the counterpart of these losses, for Titta, virtually translates into the conquest of the perception of the permanent removal of Gradisca, that is, as the narrative visually shows, it becomes the possibility of visualizing the image of Gradisca moving away himself in the car, like a mere dot in the distance, almost indiscernible on the horizon.

The recognition of the separation also consists consecutively, along with the dialogic admission of otherness, in the possibility of Titta obtaining the condition of looking reflexively; that is, to rise to the condition of narrator and thus install himself above his own acts and values, to critically delimit them, as well as the representations and practices of life (located, as seen, on the periphery and under fascism).



Disengage yourself, under the terms of Amarcord, becomes the precondition for being able to tell the story of oneself and others. This movement functions as a didactic explanation of the dialogic activity of narrating. One reasonably conceives or deduces, then, the tendency of approximation and fusion of the character (Titta) with the focus or main narrative point of view, given by the co-determination between the activity of enunciation and that of criticism or totalizing transformation of meaning. of past experience via word, sight and or memory. In summary, this is how the narrator is born insofar as, through reflection, he accesses the formative possibility of becoming the other or assimilating the experiences of others.

In short, the faculty of narrating or transforming, according to the scheme of Amarcord, presupposes the critical detachment from oneself – the dialogical maturation of the opposition to oneself, through self-distancing, towards the points of view of others; or, to abbreviate: the (reflective) power to carry out the passage from individual to collective experience.

* Luiz Renato Martins he is professor-advisor of PPG in Economic History (FFLCH-USP) and Visual Arts (ECA-USP). Author, among other books, of The Long Roots of Formalism in Brazil (Haymarket/HMBS).

Second part of the modified version of the article published in Carlos Augusto Calil (org.). Fellini Visionario: La Dolce Vida, 8 ½, Amarcord. Company of Letters, 1994.

To read the first part of the article click on


[I] See W. Benjamin, Qu'est-ce que le theater épique, In: Oeuvres/ volume III, translation by R. Rochlitz, pp. 317-28. Brazilian translation: What is epic theater / A study on Brecht.

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