Nulla si sa, tutto s'immagina (One knows nothing, one imagines everything)
The futile, frustrated Hollywood fantasies in the Cinema Fulgor are a key scene in Amarcord, Fellini’s portrait of provincial Italy in the 1930s. On one level, the film is about Rimini; the comic characters, all masterfully sketched by a born caricaturist, were based on real people, and many of the vignettes apparently really did happen, from the madman in the tree screaming ‘I want a woman!’ to the passing of the ocean liner Rex.
Romagnolo dialect poet, Tonino Guerra, collaborated on the script, and the film is chockful of lyrical local colour, from the early shots of the fogarazza, the burning in March of the witch of winter, to the collective fantasies about romantic sheiks in the Grand Hotel. The familiarity is increased by Fellini’s jocular messing about with the traditional role of audience and director: on several occasions a pedantic lawyer tries to give a tour of Rimini while Fellini himself blows raspberries and throws snowballs at him from behind the camera. But from the beginning, everything is suspect: it’s the village idiot who introduces the film, casting doubts on all that follows. For Fellini the autobiographical details were incidental; Amarcord, he insisted, did not mean ‘I remember’ (mi ricordo), but was rather ‘like a brand of aperitivo’ made of many things blended together.
In an interview he gave called ‘The Fascism Within Us’, Fellini explained that one of his reasons for making the film came from his conviction that Amarcord’s dominant themes of adolescence and fascism are:
the permanent historical seasons of our lives; adolescence of our individual lives, fascism of our national life. That is, this remaining children for eternity, this leaving responsibilities for others, this living with the comforting sensation that there is someone who thinks for you (and at one time it’s mother…another time Il Duce, another time the Madonna…); and in the meanwhile, you have this limited, time-wasting freedom which permits you only to cultivate absurd dreams – the dream of the American cinema, or the Oriental dream concerning women; in conclusion, the same, old, monstrous out-of-date myths that even today seem to me to form the most important conditioning of the average Italian.
According to Fellini, what ultimately binds Amarcord’s hapless characters is confusion and ignorance; all of Rimini, in fact, is shown to be in a state of arrested development. Unlike Bertolucci and other Italian directors, Fellini doesn’t demonize the Fascists or allow his Italian audience to dismiss them as brutal perverts, as something alien to themselves; his bumbling, clownish blackshirts are as misguided as everyone else. The frequent scenes of fog and smoke not only give Amarcord its dreamy air, but symbolize the ignorance and alienation (at one point the fog is so thick the grandfather can’t even find his own door). An enigmatic motorcyclist goes around and around; a peacock, the symbol of vanity, appears in the snow; the priest and the teachers misinform and misguide.
‘The pretext of being together is always a levelling process. People stay together only to commit stupid acts,’ said Fellini, and the several occasions in the film when his slightly crazy and frustrated but individually innocuous characters gather together – for the bonfire, for the Fascist holiday of 21 April, or to greet the Fascist bigwig – are when they become disquieting and truly imbecilic, caught up in the ritual, void of individual responsibility, capable of any madness.
If anyone in Rimini is on to the real intentions of their favourite son, they do not seem to hold it against him. The best caricaturists can’t help making the humanity of their subjects shine through. And the director himself, for all the sardonic scolding of his interviews, was incapable of making his home town and its people seem anything but perfectly endearing.
© Dana Facaros & Michael Pauls