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Frederico Fellini's masterwork 8 ½ is difficult to approach largely
because of its reputation. Many critics also state that the film is so
complex that it requires multiple viewings to understand, and this is
likely to intimidate many viewers. But in truth, and in spite of its
surrealistic flourishes, 8 ½ is more straight-forward than its
reputation might lead you to believe.
The storyline itself is very simple. A famous director is preparing a new film, but finds himself suffering from creative block: he is obsessed by, loves, and feels unending frustration with both art and women, and his attention and ambition flies in so many different directions that he is suddenly incapable of focusing on one possibility lest he negate all others. With deadlines approaching the cast and crew descend upon him demanding information about the film--information that the director does not have because he finds himself incapable of making an artistic choice.
What makes the film interesting is the way in which Fellini ultimately transforms the film as a whole into a commentary on the nature of creativity, art, mid-life crisis, and the battle of the sexes. Throughout the film, the director dreams dreams, has fantasies, and recalls his childhood--and this internal life is presented on the screen with the same sense of reality as reality itself. The staging of the various shots is unique; one is seldom aware that the characters have slipped into a dream, fantasy, or memory until one is well into the scene, and as the film progresses the lines between external life and internal thought become increasingly blurred, with Fellini giving as much (if not more) importance to fantasy as to fact.
The performances and the cinematography are key to the film's success. Even when the film becomes surrealistic, fantastic, the actors perform very realistically and the cinematography presents the scene in keeping with what we understand to be the reality of the characters lives and relationships. At the same time, however, the film has a remarkably poetic quality, a visual fluidity and beauty that transforms even the most ordinary events into something slightly tinged by a dream-like quality. Marcello Mastroianni offers a his greatest performance here, a delicate mixture of desperation and ennui, and he is exceptionally well supported by a cast that includes Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimee, and a host of other notables.
I would encourage people not to be intimidated by the film's reputation, for its content can be quickly grasped. When critics state the film requires repeated viewing what they actually seem to mean is that the film holds up extremely well to repeated viewing; each time it is seen, one finds more and more to enjoy and to contemplate. Even so, I would be amiss if I did not point out that people who prefer a cinema of tidy plot lines and who dislike ambiguity or the necessity of interpreting content will probably dislike 8 ½ a great deal. For all others: strongly, strongly recommended.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
(excuse me for my bad English)
Thoughts on Fellini's carrier can be divided on people who think his peak was early neorealist phase (Vitelloni, La Strada, Nights of Cabiria) (do you remember the guy in the line from Woody Allen's Annie Hall?) and on the ones that praised his fantasy phase starting with La Dolce Vita and followed by 8 1/2, Roma etc.
They are both wrong. Both periods and its films are very important, cinematically rich and skillful in directing. The fact that there are many followers of both periods and equal artistic success shows that the only real difference is among their aesthetics. And isn't that what makes a great director?
This film is considered one of the best movies of all time among critics and directors. Many people have complaints of how this movie is difficult to understand. It is. When I first saw it, it was a rather very frustrating experience. But once you capture it fully its amazing. In fact, I fully captured it after the third viewing (and after that, every time I see it I can find something new or different). That's because this movie works differently. It works out of standard movie patterns and conventions we use to see in everyday cinema. Above, and most important of all, it speaks with the different movie language. And that is a real cinematic language, because 8 1/2 uses specific movie instruments to transmit it's content. It cannot be transferred in any other form, including literal. That's why it is so hard to put the plot into the words and that's the major merit of this film.
After the tremendous commercial and artistic success in 1960. with his previous film La Dolce Vita, Fellini decided to make a film (8 1/2) about the movie director (played by Marcello Mastroianni as Guido) fresh from recent success who is not sure what to film next! And this egocentric director, under the pressure of his producer, actors, friends, fans and journalists, is escaping into the memories of his childhood, wishful fantasies and dreams.
At the beginning of the film, there's a stunning famous dream sequence. Guido is trapped in a traffic jam. He loses his breath while unsuccessfully trying to escape from his car. People around (in their vehicles) are starring at him. The whole scene is mute (except the constant monotonous sound) and, from time to time, it freezes. Suddenly, he is free, and flying towards sky. Then, one of his assistants pulls him down to earth. And, he is awake. I think it's unnecessary to explain the meaning of this brilliant scene.
There is also a scene where he is persuaded to ask a catholic priest for an advice about the content of his next film (since his films are widely released there is a moral issue). But he apparently has an aversion towards Church. And then, during a conversation with this priest, Guido suddenly associates his early childhood event (watching a dance of a prostitute Saraghina, and the subsequent punishment by one priest). So, the current event forces its cause to come out of his subconsciousness.
Then, there is a scene quarrel between Guido and his wife (played by Anuk Aimee) while sitting outdoors. She is complaining about his mistress(es) and he is denying everything. Then, his mistress (Sandra Milo) suddenly arrives and, after she saw Guido with his wife, sits to one table not so close. Guido's wife noticed that and realized that woman is his mistress. So, she is continuing her quarrel with him. And then comes one of the most visceral and fascinating scenes in the Movie History. Suddenly, wishful fantasy starts Guido's wife stands up, coming towards mistress. They are kissing each other like longtime friends and making a nice conversation. Then, Guido enters his house from the childhood (which is shown before) with some presents in his hands. And, there are like 20 women around him fighting for his attention. He is whipping them (dominate them). And there is his wife peaceful, calm, conservative, loving So, under the pressure of all-around-him messes he is fantasying. This is psychologically known as the regression to the pleasure principle and is very common. This scene is known as "The Harem Scene" and like others is followed by brilliant, very suitable music score.
From time to time, Guido is fantasying a beautiful young woman (Claudia Cardinale). She is another projection of his narcissism an ideal woman to please all of his wishes not making a single complaint.
Rosella represents (symbolizes) his super-ego. Pay attention to their phone conversation. Also in Harem scene (harem is actually his Id, fulfilling all his infantile fantasies) she is ABOVE him making complaints.
His producer is "paternal figure". All his father's wishes, demands to Guido are now "reactivated" with producer. Pay attention to very interesting first "fantasy" scene in the movie (on the grave). Father asks a man something like:" How is my boy doing"? and the man makes face like: "Well...". Later we discover that the man is his producer.
Guido's wife and his mother, the same thing. And we discover this in the same scene when his mother turns into his wife.
Critical writer may represent his raw intellect but also artistic vanity while Conocchia is his neglected emotional aspect.
At the end of the movie, he eventually becomes aware of the causes of his confusion and self-deceptions (this sudden awareness is symbolized by "shooting himself", shooting his confusion that is) and having a final monologue: "...Accept me as I am. Only then can we discover each other..."
Fellini's 8 1/2 opens with a stunning dream sequence in which a man is
trapped in his car in the middle of a traffic jam. The doors and windows are
locked and there is no escape. Other drivers simply sit and stare at him
passively. The driver starts to panic as smoke begins to build up within the
car. Propelling himself outside a window, he floats over the other cars and
soars above the world until he is pulled down a rope attached to a tether on
his ankle. The driver is Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni), a film
director at odds with himself. Shot in black and white, 8 1/2 is an
exhilarating, confusing, irritating, and inspired journey into a man's
consciousness. It is not just a look at the inner turmoil of one person, but
also a commentary on each person's struggle to make sense of their life. The
film's combination of kaleidoscopic images, evocative score by Nino Rota,
and amazing performances ensure its place as one of the greatest films of
Guido is preparing to shoot a new film with an expensive budget. He constructs a huge spaceship launch pad that costs $80 million but he is unsure of what he wants to say. Guido's dishonesty in dealing with his marriage, his career, and the fact that he really does not want to make the film forces him to falsely mislead people as to his true intentions. He feels like a failure and is physically spent. He checks into a spa to restore his health and well being but the contingent of producers, actors, writers, and hangers on undermine his strength. His feeling of being overwhelmed by personal and professional obligations provides the catalyst for dreams and fantasies that take him back to his childhood.
Fellini shows his encounter with the prostitute Saraghina (Eddra Gale) and the guilt he has to deal with in a confrontation with the Catholic Church. Guido invites his intellectual wife Luisa (Anouk Aimée) to the set but their relationship has turned cold and passionless, and sparks fly when she has to confront Carla (Sandra Milo), his buxom mistress. Guido is misguided but he has an innocence and charm that allows us to overlook his indulgences. He enjoys his pleasures but has a conscience and feels guilty about cheating on Luisa whom he loves and is afraid of losing. He fantasizes that all of the women in his life are together in a harem where they all dote on his every whim. When they finally recognize how little he cares about them, he is forced to suppress their revolt.
As image piles on image and the fantasy becomes indistinguishable from the reality, the viewer may get lost in a maze of dazzling incoherence. Fellini, however, always returns to solid ground and the film offers not only a satire on the frenzy, the uncertainty, and the clash of egos involved with making a film but also a serious commentary on the importance of honesty in a relationship. If 8 1/2 is occasionally exhausting, the ending is invigorating, letting us know that life is a game in which each of us is on the stage performing our roles and the only sane response to its turmoil is to join hands in love and celebrate the moment.
It's been said before: Marcello Mastroianni plays Guido Anselmi, a
fictitious, 43-year-old film director with a personal crisis that
stunts his creative flow and his inability to get on with his new film
after the enormous success of his previous one. The character is
iconically brought to life by the immortal Mastroianni with
artificially greyed hair and is universally identified as an alter ego
of Fellini himself.
The first time I saw 8½ I was in my teens and hated it. I then rewatched it only a few years later, in my early 20s, and something miraculous happened. It was probably a pivotal moment in my film-viewing experience: it suddenly gave me new parametres by which to judge movies and even art in general. I suddenly learnt this new language, so much more beautiful and sophisticated than anything I had heard before. What was most amazing was that after the first negative experience, I had somehow tapped into this language's secret, and it wasn't in the least bit hermetic or difficult, though more complex and sophisticated than other languages I already knew. Many of the movies I'd considered greats became amateurish or dwarfish in comparison.
To me, this was no longer simply a movie, but Art in a more universal sense of the word, Art that just IS and has nothing to strive for or prove. Which is why I find it so nonsensical and contradictory to call something like 8½ "pretentious" - to me, pretentious is when an insecure auteur is trying consciously and hard to be profound, difficult, original, ground-breaking, and you can see their intent clearly, and detect the effort behind the artifice. Nothing of any of this is anywhere to be perceived in 8½, which makes creating masterpieces look easy.
I admit that 8½ is not an easy movie, nor one for everyone. Visually, fewer movies are as iconic, memorable, original, poetic, funny, inventive, allegorical, exhilarating.
The scenes I love are too many to mention, but here are just a few: The steam bath scene when in an odd procession/ritual, the patients are being led into what must be a Turkish bath. All the steam surrounding them, the men wearing sheets that look like shrouds or togas, all looking like mock-ancient Roman dignitaries... Then, through a loud-speaker Mastroianni-Anselmi is told the dried-up, turkey-like Cardinal, will now condescend to meeting him. Before Guido rushes off to meet the Cardinal, all his friends and colleagues beg him to put in a good word for them. This is such a gleeful stab at Italy's grovelling, nepotistic culture of ingratiating oneself to the powers-that-be by paying them lip-service even for the most petty personal advantages. Then Guido stands before the embodiment of Catholic paternalism and his obsequious minions. And everything is at its most pompous and lifeless - this dusty, mummified institution is less in touch with the humanity it's supposed to comfort and advise than it is possible to believe.
I also love the character of Guido's mistress, Carla, played by Sandra Milo at her gaudiest and most voluptuous. Though initially it's difficult to understand what Guido would have seen in her, eventually it become more apparent. Meeting his wife Luisa, you see how well the two women's ways of being complement one another. See for example how she reacts in a simple, good-humoured, self-deprecating way when in the café scene, Guido's elegant, neurotic wife played by Anouk Aimée at her most androgynously attractive - mockingly compliments Carla's tacky outfit for its "elegance". In such instances one gets a sense that though Fellini is parodying his subjects, he also has a fundamental love and human compassion for them.
The prostitute La Saraghina is probably one of the most memorable female characters put to film ever. She is probably somewhere in her 50s and rougher than sandpaper, overweight yet strangely fit and voluptuous, with lots of scary, wild dark hair, overdone raccoon eye make-up caked onto her aggressive, striking, sardonic face as she sits and dances on the lonely beach in Rimini next to her war bunker-home. Guido is fascinated by what is "young and yet ancient", eternal, meaning what is muse-like, archetypically, like the divinely beautiful Claudia character, perfectly embodied by Claudia Cardinale (the ultimate director's muse rather than a real woman or mistress). La Saraghina may not be a young woman like Claudia, she may not represent spontaneity and fresh, uncluttered artistic inspiration like she does, but she is also a muse of sorts - the muse of guilt-free pleasure and non-self-conscious, free, unidealised, earthy femininity. All this is La Saraghina - the town's young boys respond to this in her (including Guido as a child) and are bewitched by her and pay to her to see her demonic yet liberating, visceral dance.
I have so much more to say about this movie, for instance about Nino Rota's memorable score, or how the movie's non-linear structure and juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated scenes emulates the rhythm and mood of dreams to perfection. Also, the scenes featuring Guido's parents and their embodiment of the emotional blackmail, that eternal sense of guilt and the stunting of individuality that the paternalistic institution of family at its most traditional represents in Italy. Or of Guido's touching childhood memories, of the wonderful way in which the movie ends, in a merry-go-round of what really matters in life, when all else has been swiped aside and all that remains is the desire to cherish (with all their imperfections) all those who have really mattered most in our lives...
Swirling, kaleidoscopic rumination from Fellini. The other user comments here (as well as many professional reviews) show how difficult it is to discuss this film briefly, so I don't think I'm going to try. I would only say that, like other films that push at the boundaries of cinematic greatness--`Citizen Kane,' `Nashville,' and `Brazil' are three others that come to mind--it isn't really possible to place `8 ½' in any simple category. It is a comedy and a tragedy, a satire and a celebration, a movie about love and about the lack of it, a movie about making art and a movie about living, an autobiography and the most challenging kind of fiction, a masterpiece of style and a movie that's really about something. It's not for everyone, but it should be, and it's quite possibly the single greatest movie I have ever seen. 11 out of 10.
First time I saw 8 1/2 over twenty years ago; I did not like it then
and I did not care much for a confused director who did not know how to
make his next movie or how to deal with all women in his life. This
time it was different. I knew it from the opening scene, from the first
sounds of Nino Rota's music. I wanted to know how Guido would balance
the demands of his producers and the insecurities of his love life. I
sometimes barely could tell the difference between the reality and
Guido's surfing the waves of his memory or building the Utopias in his
mind where things were exactly the way he wanted them to be and I
really did not want to tell the difference. I just was there, following
Guido on his journey where Fellini sent us. Then, that scene came, "La
Saraghina's" lurid dance on the beach. There was something in that
scene that made me return to it over and over again. What was it? The
dancing woman was not young, pretty or graceful. On the contrary, she
was fat and ugly but there was something about her that smile,
resilience, the promise of joy that attracted eager schoolboys. It was
a last time the young Guido felt happy without guilt and shame that
inevitably came after the encounter and stayed with him forever; he
learned that joy and punishment are inseparable
There have been fewer than a handful of films that affected me as profoundly as 8 ½ did:
Tarkovsky's "Zerkalo" when the master holds the mirror in front of you that reflects his soul and mind, open you eyes and heart, don't say a word, just watch closely.
Tarkovsky's "Andrey Rublev" What is talent? Is it a God's gift or Devil's curse? Is an Artist free in choosing what to do with that gift?
Bergman's "Persona" How far can one individual go in opening his soul to the other without losing identity and sanity?
Fellini's "Nights of Cabiria" "Dum Spiro Spero" - While there's life there's hope.
In 8 ½, Fellini explored all these subjects and in the final he took the idea of life and hope ever further: after all the characters in his film disappear from the screen, all what left behind is "a little orchestra of Hope with Love as its conductor". The last that we hear is the magic music of Rota, bringing affirmation, hope and love.
Simply wonderful. Perhaps, one of five greatest films ever made.
I certainly wouldn't be saying anything new if I said that "8 1/2" is one of
the most unique, fascinating, and personal pieces ever committed to film.
It has consistently hailed as such, and its influence on film is far
reaching and undeniable. It is certainly not one of the most entertaining
movies of all time, and is actually quite long and difficult. But it is an
incredible piece of filmmaking, and a gripping look at the difficulties of
creating not just a movie, but art in general.
Guido (Marcello Mastroianni) is a popular movie director who is working on his new film. Along the way, he struggles with his screenwriter, producer, wife, and mistress. Each presents a different problem and obstacle. More and more difficulties arise, not just in his attempts to complete the movie, but in his own mind.
Guido, although flawed, is completely fleshed out, and draws sympathy from the audience. Yes, he is an adulterer, but he loves his wife. We see all of his personal desires and agony. We see how he suffers when he struggles with his desire to create the ultimate piece of art, one that offers something to everybody.
The movie is technically wonderful. The movement of the camera, the lighting, and the direction in general is top notch. The movie mixes in dreams with reality to create a dreamlike world, and put us closer into Guido's own mind.
Somebody who is looking for a movie as a two hour piece of entertainment will not enjoy this. But if you enjoy a movie that truly satisfies when it is finished, this is for you. It is quite long, and somewhat loose, but that is part of the interest. Moviemakers, or artists in general, will find that this film has a great deal to offer.
Intellectuals have written volumes on this strange film by Italian New
Wave director, Federico Fellini. I am not an intellectual, so my review
will be brief. At its most basic, "8 1/2" (a.k.a. "Otto e mezzo")
concerns Guido, a film director (supposedly a surrogate for Fellini
himself), who is having what amounts to a midlife crisis. Guido is
frustrated in his film-making, and by his relations with other people
in his life. But the film's story does not proceed in a traditional,
linear fashion. Fellini more or less abandons logical narration, in
favor of "open form" narration, wherein the story's causal chain of
events is broken.
Thus, trying to figure out what is going on in this film can be hard. Guido's fantasies, memories, dreams, and reality co-mingle in a kind of cinematic stew. Fellini presents viewers with a kaleidoscope of surreal B&W images of ordinary objects and eccentric, chattering characters which interact with Guido and with each other, in ways that defy logic, and give breathtaking meaning to the term symbolism. Followers of psychologist Carl Jung would have a field day. In style, the film is flamboyant. In substance, the film is maddeningly subliminal. And yet, even the most metallic cynic, Pauline Kael notwithstanding, must surely appreciate the rareness of Fellini's probing introspection.
Given the bizarre, unstructured content of "8 1/2", I wonder about the issue of necessity. Suppose Fellini had added an extra ten minutes to the screenplay, or deleted ten minutes. Would that have made any difference? Apart from Guido, if this or that character had been deleted, how would that have changed the story's significance? And if, as some have suggested, the film is a mirror image of Fellini's own confused psyche, can the story be construed as an intuition of his future film-making?
"Otto e mezzo" is not for everyone. Like a Zen koan, "8 1/2" invites frustration. It is above all else a celebration of ambiguity and abstraction, a cinematic experience to ponder, especially on the heels of four or five martinis ... or 8 1/2, if you really want to induce immense intellectual insight. Cheers.
8 1/2 remains one of the most original and spellbinding films I know
of. One of the beauties of cinema is to merge the artist's memory and
fantasy; Fellini certainly utilized this magic to present his story and
characters that embody both humanity and mystery. This film is an
autobiographical piece (of Fellini himself) about a movie director
named Guido, how his life is consumed by his increasing obsession with
work. He avoids questions and problems as if they will go away somehow,
only to experience more questions and problems. Ultimately, Guido
realizes the only way to solve his problems is to face them rather than
escaping, accepting himself instead of wishing he was someone else.
The opening sequence--one of the most deftly crafted--is taken from Guido's movie (or his dream - can't remember for sure). The sequence brilliantly captures Guido's problems (which are dealt with in the rest of the picture) and exposes them metaphorically: him STUCK in traffic, TRAPPED in smoke, SUFFOCATING, wanting to escape, and pulled back down by his peers. Guido wants to make a movie about his (and Fellini's) MEMORIES: how once upon a time he learned about a chant that moves pictures, and the time he danced with the fat feminine prostitute figure. The other main component of his movie involves launching into space, a FANTASY that reflects Guido's (and Fellini's) desire to escape from worldly matters. In real life, Guido is having problems with everything from his wife to his movie. So he thinks a beautiful actress, whom he fantasizes but knows little to nothing about, will be the solution to all his problems. When Guido meets the actress, he realizes she can't solve his problems, only he himself has the choice. This realization leads to the film's closure, with Guido having learned what's important to him and the inevitability of taking responsibility.
One of the film's powerful features is ambiguously blending Guido's world with his imaginations. Thus the audience is constantly deciphering the context of what's on the screen. This invitation to participate in the film is welcome, and if we think about it, a person like Guido who lives in his office might not be able to tell at times whether an event happened in his life or inside his mind.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Our tale begins on a congested road. Our Protagonist's car fills with gas. He desperately tries to escape. The camera gives us a claustrophobic sense and within the first few minutes I am on the edge of my seat. Needless to say our protagonist survives but the outcome of this scene reveals so much. Fellini's 8 1/2 is a brilliantly executed tale of a mans life crashing down around him. It is a semi autobiographical tale, Guido is a director who is in a bit of a creative slump. He is giving both the press and executives the run around in order to buy time--hoping to find inspiration. His marriage is shaky and his relationship with his mistress is complicated. Guido tries to escape by going to a spa but his escape is not so easy... This film portrays inner conflict through dream sequences and fantasies as opposed to Expressionism. It is these sequences that enlighten the viewer and add dimension to the tale. To me 8 1/2 is the greatest film in ever, eclipsing Citizen Kane (of course AFI's top 100 list is limited to American movies...) and proving to be enjoyable and insightful.
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