Great character development isn’t the sole domain of novel writers. It also belongs to screenwriters and movie directors. I experienced the pinnacle of character development on the big screen, not in a novel, back in 1973. It rocked my world as a budding writer and defined the basis for my own way of developing characters.
The movie is Amarcord, conceived, written and directed by the legendary Federico Fellini. For me, this movie, its script, and its visual presentation epitomized the art of character development. I have yet to find anything on the screen or in a novel that compares.
The movie itself is simple in scope. It is a somewhat biographical account of Fellini’s youth in a small Italian town during the 1930s. This is a time when Fascism was the rage in Italy, a number of years before the outbreak of World War II. However, Amarcord is far from the “coming of age” theme that is so prevalent these days. Rather, Fellini takes us through an intricate array of characters, each more unique and captivating than the previous. It is the cast of characters that tell his story.
This scene presents most of the cast at a wedding ceremony near the end of Fellini’s story. Below it are members of the central family in the movie.
The entire movie is laced with smart, fascinating characters and tight, captivating dialogue. The detail of character development is what grabs and keeps our attention. No character is left undefined. No character is unimportant, even if that character makes only a cameo appearance in the movie. Each has dimension.
Early in the movie we are introduced to Fellini’s young friends gathered for the annual school photo.
Fellini wanted to offer us a taste of his time in this town and he did it by relying solely on the characters he created. The town could be anywhere in Italy, or elsewhere. The plot is common enough. But, the characters take us through his memories with impact and lots of humor. This movie moves quickly and is a complete hoot, seasoned with just enough dramatic moments to keep us guessing.
One of Fellini’s narrators is this captivating gentleman. Below is an hilarious love scene between one of the key characters and a visiting dignitary.
This movie, more than anything else, taught me how to create characters for my later writing. The attention to detail, the care and love he showed to each character, make it an unforgettable mosaic of beautifully handcrafted persona development.
The women in Fellini’s small town followed by the owner of the cigarette shop.
If you get the chance, I couldn’t think of a better way to learn about character development than Fellini’s Amarcord. To this day, it remains my favorite movie for the captivating and unforgettable characters it offers. I have never tired of experiencing Fellini’s younger years through these unique individuals. Amarcord will remain a masterpiece for writers and screenwriters, for anyone who thrives on the human side of weaving a story.