“A picture that goes beyond what men think about – because no man ever thought about it in quite this way!”
Director: Federico Fellini
Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk AimÃ©e, Claudia Cardinale
Synopsis: A harried movie director retreats into his memories and fantasies.
Before watching 8½, the only other Fellini film I had seen was Amarcord, which is a largely autobiographical account of the director’s childhood. This film, too, seems to be deeply personal (I should perhaps point out here that I’m writing this without having read any background on the making of the film) in its portrayal of a middle-aged director suffering a crisis of — well, everything really: confidence, self-belief, career, love, self-esteem, faith — they’re all dissected with a cynical and vaguely mocking sense of melancholy.
Marcello Mastroianni plays Guido, Fellini’s alter-ego, a 43-year-old director staying at a health resort as he struggles to work on the story for a film which he is about to make, and for which the cast — a mass of insecurities, each and every one of them — has already gathered. Guido is unhappy and adrift in his life, uncertain of what he wants and who he is, and burdened with a sense of failure that manifests itself in fantasies of his disappointed parents. Guido fantasises a lot in 8½ to escape difficult situations or the barrage of questions he forever seems to face, so a realistic scene will suddenly go off on a surreal tangent with only the most whimsical of smiles or arching of an eyebrow on the part of Guido to forewarn us. It’s confusing at first — especially, I imagine if, like me, you’re not familiar with Fellini — but oddly likable after a while.
8½ is filled with women, because they are a major preoccupation of the fickle and feckless director. He loves them all, is unable to stop himself from dallying with them, despite knowing how much it hurts his wife of twenty years. While worshipping the female he also objectifies them and discards them when they grow old. In his mind, they are his harem, floating around in harmony, caring only for his happiness and easily controlled when they briefly become restless. And they don’t despise him for his weaknesses, or for being incapable of love.
There’s obviously a lot of Fellini in this character Guido, something of a wreck of a man but still handsome and charismatic nonetheless, and because of this 8½ is sometimes in danger of becoming a self-indulgent intellectualising of his shortcomings. Despite this it is always interesting — it’s clear that, whatever personal problems may have been troubling him, professionally he was at the top of his game — while providing a challenge to the viewer. It’s not for everybody’s tastes, for sure, but there are so many good things going on with 8½ that you’ll never be bored.
(Reviewed 13th November 2009)