Directed by: Federico Fellini || Produced by: Angelo Rizzoli
Screenplay by: Federico Fellini, Ennio Fellini, Tullio Penelli, Brunello Rondi || Starring: Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimee, Sandra Milo
Music by: Nino Rota || Cinematography: Gianni Di Venanzo || Editing by: Leo Cattozzo || Country: Italy, France || Language: Italian
Running Time: 138 minutes
Much like with Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960), an epic drama piece about humanity’s misguided search for “the good life,” Fellini’s 8 1/2 requires a good deal of patience and thematic analysis to fully appreciate. Its deviations into character fantasy and memory-warped flashbacks are not always clear-cut or or loudly announced. Nowhere will you hear tacky, obvious sound FX or intrusive visual transitions that signal the plot’s changing gears. 8 1/2 requires that you pay attention, and pay attention well. It’s almost obnoxious the amount of close examination the film requires in order for you to understand it, but I guess that’s why the critics love it so much. To it’s credit, 8 1/2 is deep film. One could also call it boring or dull, and they’d probably partially have a point too. But it’s anything but a shallow movie.
The title refers to the number of films Fellini had directed in his career up to that point, including this one. Fellini had directed six feature-length projects, two short segments, and a collaboration with another director, Alberto Lattuada, therefore equaling a total of seven and a half films to his credit. 8 1/2 is technically, according to that logic, Fellini’s eight and “half-ed” film.
It is also a film largely about Fellini himself, and therefore the film is about filmmaking by proxy, specifically the process a director undergoes to create a movie. This semi-autobiographical story follows Marcello Mastroianni, who plays the narrative’s fictionalized version of Fellini named Guido, as he attempts to make his latest and greatest film. He is working on a science-fiction epic, a film of massive proportions that is attracting the attention of the press, the public, and the whole world it seems. It’s a big project and a big investment on the part of industry executives and producers.
The only problem is Guido has no idea how to pull it off.
8 1/2‘s scenario is that of a box office disaster in the making, except in this story the movie doesn’t even make it to the box office to at least earn something back on the studio’s investment. No, Fellini’s setting is that of a nightmare scenario for any director: All the pressure in the world to produce a film, yet no inspiration to make it. Problems are compounded by the fact Guido is distracted by struggles in his personal life with his estranged wife, his mistress, and others making the director more miserable and only serving to escalate his writer’s block. In short, 8.5 is a movie about a director who can’t make a movie. It takes into account all the financial, creative, personal, and professional problems that go into filmmaking and the struggles film directors experience when the moviemaking process doesn’t go as planned. 8.5 has been commonly referred to as the greatest film ever made about filmmaking, and that title may describe Fellini’s movie to a “T.”
What makes the film interesting other than the surface narrative are the many surrealist, metaphorical sequences that illustrate Guido’s personal and professional battles with all his stress. Some are warped flashback sequences, such as Guido’s childhood memories as a Catholic schoolboy ogling a prostitute only to be harshly punished and shamed by his Catholic priest teachers. Some are obvious fantasies like the scene where Guido pictures himself as the master of a harem that includes all the women he’s ever been involved with, keeping those ferocious, troublesome ladies at bay with a lion whip. Others are simple metaphors for Guido’s struggles to make his movie, such as the opening scene where Guido is suffocating inside a car, and then suddenly finds himself flying in the sky trying to escape only to be yanked back down to earth by his business associates.
Once you realize what’s going on, these key sequences stand out more and the movie becomes easier to follow. It’s only frustrating at first because the narrative’s focus slides so smoothly from dream to reality and back to dream again that it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on.
In the end, the script’s depth and the precision with which it displays the zoo that often is a director’s job, is what makes Fellini’s 8.5 a success. The performances by the cast are all fine, Mastrioianni’s included, but their importance to the movie is secondary to the complex analysis being conducted by the narrative. Much like with La Dolce Vita (1960), I’m not too enthralled with the cinematography, even within the dream sequences, although it’s likely I’m just missing something because I didn’t pay close enough attention. The blocking and set-design seem more important, as Fellini does a good job orchestrating each set so that it properly conveys the symbolism that lies therein. Really though, this movie is about the writing, and the way it breaks down, pays homage to, and even parodies film directors, Fellini himself most of all. It’s also yet another thematically dense film that’s hard to recommend to casual viewers, but if you have the energy to invest in 8 1/2 and understand it fully, you’ll walk away with a greater appreciation for not only the movie, but also the profession of filmmaking itself.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: 8 1/2 decorates its narrative and main character with a plethora of surrealist symbolism and fantasy. It delves into the mind of the very man who’s writing it, which only adds to the bizarre nature of the film. Fellini’s set-design, blocking, and framing of each scene are impressive, even if the camerawork itself isn’t too mesmerizing.
— However… 8 1/2 feels long, drawn out, and more than a tad boring at times, despite being so self-aware.
? Ok, that’s it, I’m done with these European New Wave films. *Collapses*
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