8 1/2 Review
A film director is struggling to find the creativity required to deliver his next movie and consequently is being hassled by industry figures as well as his wife and his mistress. In order to escape his tormentors, the director retreats into a world of memories, dreams and fantasies. The result is a dazzling array of themes and images which make 8½ the quintessential Fellini movie. It’s about the making of the film you’re watching and so reeks of pretension and nepotism. And yet, it is effortlessly beguiling.
8½ (Otto e mezzo) is easy to recommend, hard to say why, and impossible to assume whether you’ll like it, regardless of how much you appreciate it. An intensely personal film for the director, Federico Fellini, it might just be one for you to. Its beauty is intoxicating whatever your conclusion, so dive in, embrace it and let it simmer on your mind.
With a varied and playful structure, scenes differ wildly, verging on a collection of set-pieces, yet they flow easily together between Guido’s (Marcello Mastroianni) present, his fantasies, and his past. There might be a tendency these days in such a film to make the memories and dreams overly romantic, with signposting to emphasise their place in the story, but moments in Guido’s reality can be just as theatrical and untrustworthy. Your own perception of the events is challenged.
Mastroianni is marvellous as Guido and he has a great cast to support him, including the wonderful Anouk Aimée as his long-suffering wife. She may be his and the film’s anchor, while he is teased in his own mind at least by Claudia Cardinale. Barbara Steele meanwhile has an entrance rival Grace Kelly’s in Hitchcock’s Rear Window.
Nevertheless, 8½ can easily divide an audience. Guido is exhausted, as much from his affairs as from a previous film, but because we are so focused on him and he is suffering from essentially being too successful, it is easy to see it as pretentious self-pity. Suffering at his own convenience, you might say, and the film is clearly so personal to Fellini that it may be auto-biographical; is Fellini coming to terms with his own addictions and shortfalls by making 8½? Does he feel better and self-satisfied because he shared it with us? If the film wasn’t so good, its self-serving nature and cheap treatment of women could be offensive.
It has a light and cheeky sense of humour throughout. In truth, you are not forced into sympathising with anyone; things just move along as they would naturally. You see his dreams and fantasies, but it is not some sentimental inner-voice relating them to us in retrospect, dictated by a narrative. Indeed, it entirely avoids committing to having some sort of focused resolution. Guido is a hard character to dislike - as his wife might tell you - even as all his neuroses, faults and ambitions are laid bare. Consider how it reflects on Fellini and it is as honest and pure a film as you could imagine.
8½ is the epitome of Neo-Realism. The genre evolved from Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica, 1948) and you can see in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Mamma Roma (1962) such realism in his work that he didn’t want the audience to entirely forget they were watching a film. A brief moment where a young actor stumbles during a dance and looks straight at the camera remains unedited. The barriers between the filmmakers and their audience were breaking down, even while the film’s story was romantic.
Fellini took this to a natural end-point in 8½. There is no story as such to tell as it is merely a snapshot within the filmmaking process. It is an enigma because while it could be the purest expression of realism, does it have a point? It is at least a fascinating demonstration of what film can achieve, which just sums up the whole, wonderful, infuriating genius of the thing.
There’s material here worth looking at but it could have been presented better.
A Charming Spirit and An Extremely Beautiful View - Interviews respectively with Sandra Milo (39m) and Lina Wertmuller, director and friend of Fellini (16m). Lengthy and substantial, but unambitious as the interviews are just talking heads.
The Lost Ending (50m) - An ominous soundtrack accompanies an out-of-context discussion. Therefore, what is a genuinely fascinating exploration of what the lost footage may have meant, is also occasionally sinister for no apparent reason.
Fellini Tribute (1m) - Rather like an archived web-site and doesn’t really work as a tribute.