8½ Review


“In my picture, everything happens. I’m putting everything in.”

This line from Federico Fellini’s “8 1/2” perfectly sums up the movie. Fellini throws everything about Guido Anselmi’s life on screen: his career, his busy love life, his past, and his dreams. For a film that’s light on plot, there really is a hell of a lot going on. It makes for a fascinating study, but not necessarily an enjoyable one, for I found myself mulling over the meaning of everything on the screen far more than I was actually swept up in it all.

Famous film director Guido Anselmi (Marcelo Mastroianni) is suffering. He is being pressured by everyone around him to begin production on his next film, but he is not ready. He must also find time to balance the needs of his (rightfully) jealous wife Luisa (Anouk Aimee) and his needy mistress Carla (Sandra Milo). Meanwhile, his mind wanders. He ventures into his childhood, a much simpler and less stressful time. He escapes into fantasy, where he can picture the life he wished he was living. But he keeps getting pulled back by the people around him who are starting to really drive him mad.

Technically, “8 1/2” is an astonishing accomplishment. The music by Nino Rota is perfect and incorporated into the proceedings brilliantly. The editing is phenomenal, seemlessly blurring the line between fantasy and reality. The camera work and set design are also magnificent.

The acting is great. Marcelo Mastroianni (channeling his director) does a great job showing Guido’s growing frustration with himself and everyone around him. He’s truly distressed, and Mastroianni has that down pat. But Mastroianni also shows a few hints of charisma, which must be present to have so many people following him and obsessing over what he will do next. The rest of the supporting cast is effective, especially at showing how they can make Guido feel so tired and stressed out. Most of them are annoying (as they must be), but one exception is Anouk Aimee’s Luisa, who is the only person it seems Guido really cares about (besides himself).

“8 1/2” also makes a number of meaningful points about the film industry. It says there will always be people leeching onto you, clamoring to ride your coattails into fame and fortune. That’s what we see here with Guido. But unfortunately, artists like Guido need these people to help them create what they want to create. This is supposedly a very personal (almost autobiographical) portrait of Fellini, right down to his love of beautiful women. He must’ve been feeling quite frustrated with the motion picture industry before creating “8 1/2.”

The film does almost everything right and is endlessly thought-provoking. Yet, I can’t say that I loved it. The first time I viewed it (and yes, repeated viewings are essential) I thought it was inexplicable. After the second viewing, I saw something there, but couldn’t quite wrap my thoughts around it. After the third viewing, I really appreciated it for what it was (a true cinematic work of art), but still felt like it was keeping me an arm’s length away. I think it’s more of a film to be studied than watched. I enjoyed studying, but I’m not sure I enjoyed watching it any of the three times.

The title of the film refers to the number of films Guido has made. I think it might also refer to the number of viewings required before you can truly appreciate what is onscreen. One day, I’d like to find out.

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