Reviews of our December features
December 7 and 8
(additional reviews are available below our featured review)
Reviewed by Dan Jardine
"Amarcord" is the phonetic translation of the Italian words "Mi Ricordo" (I remember) as pronounced in the dialect of Emilia-Romagna, the birthplace of director Federico Fellini and the setting of this wonderful film. Little surprise, then, that it is a poignant and bawdy semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale, with an ethereal, dreamlike quality that combines sharply drawn memories with vividly engaging fantasy. Like William Wordsworth, Fellini implies that the child is father to the man, and Amarcord is a both a lament for and an homage to his hometown. Employing a picaresque style, Fellini expertly weaves the tales of a wild menagerie of characters in pre-WW II Italy. No mere sentimentalist, he also tackles the prickly issue of the emergence of Fascism. The film takes careful aim at fanatics, while conserving its empathy for the lost, questing, confused, and lonely individuals in its midst. The family at the center of it all, loosely based on Fellini's own, is a well-drawn melange of coarse, pathetic, colorful, clever, and cranky characters. While Fellini does not choose nostalgic sepia tones, he does shoot much of the film in muted colors that seem slightly out-of-focus, as if he were attempting to transport us into a dreamlike state. Blending scenes of pathos and humor, vulgar carnal desire and transcendent magical illumination (the peacock's standing in the newly fallen snow, spreading its magnificent plumage is this film's signature image), Amarcord won the lion's share of 1974's Best Foreign Film awards, including the New York Film Critics Circle, the National Board of Review, the Golden Globe, and the Academy Award, and it remains a triumph of personal filmmaking.
-- Dan Jardine / AllMovie.com
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Reviewed by Robert Hatch
Selecting Bergman's greatest masterpiece is like trying to pick the best pistachio nut in a bowl. You can't do it, although this tale of a doctor looking back on his life is as good a choice as any.
Some early viewers have alleged that Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries is symbolically enigmatic or otherwise obscure. They must be uncommonly serene people, for no one who has ever looked into himself with astonished disgust or rueful acknowledgment of the lateness of the hour can go seriously astray at this picture. Bergman has learned everything the French and German experimenters had to teach of film magic, and uses symbolism and association with the fluent ease of mastery. But his evocations are never for sensation and they are never vague—he is a surgeon-poet.
A reviewer must exercise some tact in discussing this picture. It is a work of such high and subtle art that the temptation is to run in with a smother of adjectives and a display of analytical explanation. The picture will not stand the heaviness—it is not in the heroic or didactic mold. The appropriate reaction is gratitude, not ostentatious appreciation.
Wild Strawberries recounts a day's experience in a shaken and desperately repining old man. The day has begun badly in a nightmare baleful with the furniture of estrangement, confusion and death. The old man travels by car all that day to attend an academic conference that will honor him for a half-century of distinguished contribution to science. The route carries him through the neighborhood of his youth and his hours are filled by half-dreamed memories and half-remembered fantasies. Old injuries inflicted by the cruelty of self-absorption or the inadequacies of sympathy and imagination torment him—death is his concern, but death of the heart more than death of the body. He accuses himself; worse still, he accses those who meant most to him: the nostalgia of wild strawberries now recalls a coldness of ultimate hell. And yet...
With him, in the persons of his daughter-in-law and three hitchhiking royers, ride life and love and the warmth of passionate concern. The travelers meet hatred on the road (a couple made mad by the existence of each other) and they put it from them. They fight and tumble, laugh, tell thrusting truths and force wild flowers and their terrors into the old man's hands. Wonderfully enough, he does not seem dead to them. They would not believe his dreams and by evening he finds that he no longer needs to recount them. At the end, one vision comes to him—from very early in his childhood—that has escaped the ice.
I cannot begin to detail the apt and lovely devices by which Bergman conveys this excursion into a man's spirit. Its evocations are never pretentious, never sentimental—though often tender and usually painful. It is a ruthless lyricism that does not despair. Wild Strawberries is the testament, I suspect quite directly personal, of a man who thoroughly understands how terrible it is to be a human being, and who is glad to accept the consequences. The screen has never been used with greater art or for more humane ends.
-- Robert Hatch / The Nation
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