by Ken B.
8½ manages to be a movie that I unquestionably admire, but I’m not exactly sure what I’m admiring. It is surrealist, bizarre, and satirical. It is autobiographical, right down to its title (how many movies that writer/director Federico Fellini had made up to that time – the ½ refers to a collaboration he once did with another filmmaker).
It is a film about filmmaking – Guido Anselmi (MARCELLO MASTROIANNI) is a 43 year old director who has recently gotten over an illness. He is pressured into working again, from his wife Luisa (ANOUK AIMÉE) to mistress Carla (SANDRA MILO). The production will be elaborate – constant allusions and depictions of grand scaffolding for a spaceship set are shown throughout the film’s 138 minute runtime.
But Guido doesn’t know what he wants to do with this movie – call it the auteur’s version of writer’s block. While planning the film and casting actors, he often disappears into his fantasies in memories, often combining with reality in bizarre ways, with eccentric characters and moments, not of short supply in the untouched existence.
The film is never boring. It isn’t straightforward coherent, either, and that’s what makes it so worthy of your time – like or dislike. 8½ displays a simultaneously wide-eyed and cynical view of filmmaking, or perhaps humanity in general. I’ll freely admit that one of the driving reasons that I devoted September 2013 to reviewing movies called “Classics” is so that there would be a minimal chance that I’d have to suffer through any cinematic VMA performances (I’m going to start saying that instead of “train wrecks”), but I didn’t realize until now that there’s the added bonus of being able to look at daring films that probably would have been thrown under the bus today.
Marcello Mastroianni’s visual appearance in the film is iconic enough – his character is a more or less autobiographical Fellini. The performance is fascinating – dealing with the oddities around him with a happy, nondescript medium.
At one point in 8½, a character explains that if a movie is too unusual or incoherent, it will turn audiences off. At times, I found this movie to be extremely hard to read or understand. If this was intentional, then the movie is not following the words it pontificates, however briefly. If they all had specific meanings, I’m just an idiot (very much possible). I look forward to revisiting this movie in a while, with a reset mind and the ability to look at it in a different way. This is a movie that does not simply lend it self to rewatching, it more or less requires it.
8½ is a (surreal) comedy at its head, followed by a character drama and pseudo-fantasy. Its wide array of eccentric creations is amusing, the dissection of the psyche its main character is in depth, and the circus revolving in his mind is incredible. You watch it, thinking and evaluating all the way through, and you don’t stop after it ends. Fellini truly has created a strange masterpiece.
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