#56 - 8½ (Federico Fellini)

The Beautiful Confusion


“8½” is film that focuses on a director who is about to start making a new film. He wants it to be a personal film, a truthful film. No lies. In many ways this filmmaker, Guido, is the director of the film that I am writing about. I am not saying that Guido is Fellini, but I do think that he is the agent of Fellini. For example we have no clue what Guido’s film is about, even though he talks about it quite a bit throughout “8½”. But there is a spaceship set that is being built for Guido, and although it is not very clear what its purpose is in Guido’s film it sure as hell serves as a grand backdrop for the finale of “8½”.

Guido (Marcello Mastroianni) is suffering from something that is familiar to any person that is working in a creative field. A creative block. When you pile up on that the pressures that come with success and expectations and deadlines things start getting a bit screwy in your head, as is the case with Guido.

And creative block is certainly a theme of the film but it strikes me as a very superficial one - a theme that is there mostly to serve the plot of “8½”. It actually might have been one of the starting ideas for the film itself as it is very easy to see Fellini going through a similar crisis as Guido, and coming up with the concept for this very film. But the final film goes well beyond that simple proposition and has turned in to an internalized exploration of Guido’s professional and personal life and his relationship to the women that surround him. But “8½” is also an exploration of filmmaking and cinema itself.

The film questions the manipulation of film, the lie at the core of it, the personal, psychological, philosophical and especially the metaphysical qualities of film. The emotion. This is brought out not only in the dialogue of the film (like Guido’s talks with the critic and the Bishop), but in the cinematic language of the film itself.

“8½” does not adhere to any notions of storytelling structure and the events that Guido goes through are spiced up by his daily fantasies, his dreams and nostalgic flashbacks to his childhood. Sometimes the cut to these flashbacks is an abrupt one but sometimes Guido’s reality simply slides in to a fantasy. And these scenes are quite surreal and make the film exceptionally imaginative in its cinematic language, but despite their visual simplicity they make “8½” a purposefully ambiguous and even confusing film as well. Purposefully being the key word here, because who wants to be spoon-fed by their entertainment? The intellectual workout and challenge a film like this provides is a big part of its ultimate reward.

But what is clear though is the notion that Guido is a man who is buckling under the pressures that are put on him, by himself and the people around him, and he is very much looking for escape. This is evident even in the very first dream sequence, the one that opens the film. The final shots of that dream sequence show him soaring through the skies, and then him being roped down by others after which the dream becomes a dream of falling. He is violently ripped out of the dream in to the reality, and with his waking he is instantly surrounded by people who want him to “do things”. And Guido is a fearful man throughout the film, hypocritical even, and shows himself unable to face his obstacles.

Still, what Guido fails to achieve at the end of “8½” Fellini succeeds in gloriously because this film is pretty much everything what Guido wanted his film to be, as “8½” is both personal and honest. No lies. Well, minor lies, but lies that guide us to the truth. It is a film brimming with imagination, beauty and style. It is a psychological deconstruction of a character that is Fellini’s alter-ego as well as a true exploration and celebration of filmmaking and cinema as an art form.


Marcello Mastroianni - Guido Anselmi
Claudia Cardinale - Claudia
Anouk Aimee  - Luisa Anselmi
Sandra Milo - Clara
Rossella Falk - Rossella

Original language: Italian

8½ on IMDb

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