8 1/2 (1963)

Director:  Federico Fellini
Cast:   Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée
Plot:  A harried movie director retreats into his memories and fantasies.

Genre:  Drama / Fantasy
Awards:  Won 2 Oscars - Best Foreign Language Film, Best Costume Design.  Nom. for 3 Oscars - Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration.
Runtime:  138min
Rating:  PG for some mature themes.

“Accept me as I am.  Only then can we discover each other.”

A character leaves the frame, another enters.  This continuous long-take process with more than a dozen characters (with dialogue) lasts for a few minutes and occur a few times throughout 8 ½.  Such is director Federico Fellini’s mastery of film form and style that it is almost an impossible task not to notice and be enthralled by his fluid use of camera and blocking. 

Often regarded as one of the greatest films about filmmaking, 8 ½ is to some a masterpiece of Italian cinema, to others an excellent Fellini endeavour, and to some like myself a tad disappointing only for the reason that it was unexpectedly less engaging than previously thought.

Marcello Mastroianni, one of the most charismatic of European actors, stars as Guido Anselmi, a film director who suffers from director’s block and hasn’t an inkling on what to do for his next project.  A towering set has been built, seemingly for a science-fiction movie about a nuclear holocaust.  But Guido is pressured by all forces imaginable to get things decided so that production can commence quickly. 

Faced with a psychological and professional burden, Guido retreats into a state of existential impermanence as fantasies and memories of childhood take over his mind.  It is an easy-going performance by Mastroianni who exudes a cool likability befitting of a character who is at once self-centered and a free-spirited womanizer.

Fellini closes the film with an astounding dreamlike sequence that brings forth the essence of the film – a recurring theme of sociality as the glue that brings everyone together in the hope that an individual can break free creatively and artistically.  Which in itself is a statement of intent by Fellini whose Guido is modeled after him. 

8 ½ is an autobiographical film of sorts that takes Fellini’s personal crisis and transforms it into a work of artistic triumph.  In 2009, Rob Marshall remade the film as a musical called Nine starring Daniel Day-Lewis, which was critically panned but I thought it deserved more recognition.  This is going to sound blasphemous but I enjoyed Nine more, but Fellini’s film is the more accomplished.

8 ½ stands at a juncture of Fellini’s career best described as a bridge between his earlier works like La Strada (1954), Nights of Cabiria (1957) and La Dolce Vita (1960), and his later films like Satyricon (1969) and Amarcord (1973).  Fellini has always been known as a magician, toying with reality and fantasy.  His was the antithetical response to the post-WWII Italian neorealism movement that dealt with harsh and authentic realities through cinema. 

While I disagree that 8 ½ is Fellini’s magnum opus, I must say that it is quite rightly his greatest magic trick – a film borne out of circumstances unlike any other, and one that remains to this day a monumental inspiration for those who suffered in the process of doing art, but in the end rediscovered hope.

Verdict:  Was unexpectedly less engaging than I thought, but Fellini's mastery of form and style is there for all to revel in this autobiographical film about the psychological crisis of a film director.


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