Often cited as Federico Fellini’s most autobiographical film and the last of his greats, Amarcord (1973) can also be seen as one of the most autobiographical works produced by its screenwriter, Tonino Guerra. Guerra and Fellini were born in 1920, only two months apart and just a few kilometres away from each other in Santarcangelo di Romagna and Rimini in the Romagna region of Italy. It was here where they both grew up alongside the irreparable changes brought on by Mussolini’s fascist regime, which sets the backdrop of the film.

Over the course of the war Fellini and Guerra would have contrasting experiences that would lead them on the path to their future artistic careers. Fellini would travel to Rome to study law and eventually become a modestly successful reporter and humourist writing for popular satirical magazines, leading him to scriptwriting and eventually directing. Guerra, on the other hand, would be arrested for being an anti-fascist and deported to an internment camp in Troisdorf, Germany. However, it was in the confinements of Troisdorf where an imprisoned Guerra would discover his love for telling stories and writing poetry. In the camp he befriended a group of people from Romagna who would encourage him to tell them stories in the Romagnol dialect. Guerra decided to write them poems in Romagnol which he would eventually publish after the war, in his first collection of poems titled I Scarabocc. Though Guerra would continue to write poetry and fiction, he would eventually be invited by director Elio Petri, a good friend of Guerra, to co-write the screenplay for his film Uomoni e lupi (Man and Wolves, 1957). This prompted  Guerra to move to Rome, where he would steadily become one of Italy’s most prolific screenwriters, writing over 100 screenplays over his career for many Italian directors and some of Europe’s most accomplished auteurs.

Although Guerra and Fellini would move in similar circles and be both established as luminaries of Italian cinema by the 1970s, Amarcord would mark their first collaboration together. The title itself, Amarcord, comes from the Romagna dialect, literally translating to the phrase ‘I remember’, centering the phenomenon of memory itself as the films thematic core and driving force behind many of the ideas in the film. In the first few scenes of the film a barber reminisces about his youth to his customers, followed by a scene of the lead character Titta recalling an experience he has with an older woman named Gradisca in the local cinema. Yet for these characters, these memories are unreliable. They’re an imagined past that mimic Fellini and Guerra’s feelings about the critical consensus that surrounds the films supposed autobiographical nature, with Fellini himself addressing these claims by stating “I’m a liar, but an honest one… I’ve invented the whole tale from the start.”1 This idea of fictionalised and inflated memories permeate throughout Guerra’s work, like in Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966), where a photographer believes he unwittingly photographed a murder and relies on his foggy memory to solve it, and in his hybrid-documentary collaboration with Francesco Rosi, The Mattei Affair (Francesco Rosi, 1972) which attempts to piece together the mysterious death of an Italian oil businessman through reconstructing accounts of the events leading up to his death.

Although Guerra found international success writing screenplays for auteurs like Michelangelo Antonioni, Andrei Tarkovsky and Theo Angelopouslos, as Guerra said, “There is always poetry behind everything that I do…”2 solidifying this poeticism as an essential element of his literary expression. Amarcord is told through the hazy eyes of its lead character, Titta, of a half-remembered and half-imagined adolescence through a series of episodic sequences over the course of one year, flowing out like stanzas of poetry as we follow him through the changing seasons of Rimini, witnessing his interactions with various characters of the town. Beginning with the image of a strong spring wind blowing pollen, which the characters call ‘puffballs’, through a small Italian backyard as a church bell rings in the distance. As the ‘puffballs’ drift across the town, a homeless man suddenly jumps in the air and catches one, proceeding to break the fourth wall by reciting a poem about them to the audience: 

‘In our town puffballs and Spring arrive together.
These are puffballs that drift around.
They go here and they go there.
Soaring over the cemetery,
Where all rest in peace.
Soaring over the beachfront and over the Germans
Who do not feel the cold.
Drifting, drifting.
Swirling, swirling.’3

This philosophical opening sequence alone weds the raw and earthy poeticism of Guerra’s words with Fellini’s images of magical naturalism that carry throughout the film and led them to win the award for Best International Feature Film at the 1975 Oscars, which is something they would only achieve once. Though they would continue work together on two subsequent films, none of their other collaborations would surpass the lasting influence of Amarcord.

Amarcord (1973 Italy 123 mins)

Prod Co: F.C. Produzioni Dir: Federico Fellini Scr: Federico Fellini, Tonino Guerra Phot: Giuseppe Rotunno Ed: Ruggero Mastroianni Prod Des: Danilo Donato Art Des: Giorgio Giovannini Mus: Nino Rota

Cast: Pupella Maggio, Armando Brancia, Magali Noël, Cicco Ingrassia, Nando Orfei, Luigi Rossi, Bruno Zanin


  1. Federico Fellini, Fellini On Fellini (England: Eyre Methuen Ltd.), p. 49
  2. “Tonino Guerra Biography”, Museo Tonino Guerra (website)
  3. Amarcord (Federico Fellini, 1973)

About The Author

Jacob Agius is a writer and audio producer based in Melbourne, Australia. They are a committee member of the Melbourne Cinémathèque, the Czech & Slovak Film Festival of Australia and Senses of Cinema.

Related Posts