Review: 8½ / Cert: 15 / Director: Federico Fellini / Screenplay: Various / Starring: Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimee, Claudia Cardinale / Release Date: Out Now
“Even if I set out to make a film about a fillet of sole, it would be about me.” With this comment, Federico Fellini summed up the abundance of self-indulgence on display in 8½, his semi-autobiographical meditation on the creative process and its effect on the self. That this never resulted in a film loaded with pretentious, sub-Camus Euro-babble is testament to the strength of the film’s cast, the wit of Fellini’s script and the brilliance of his imagery.
The latter is established from the off in a dream sequence that begins in a nightmarishly claustrophobic traffic jam and ends from the POV of the protagonist as he floats above a beach, looking down at a man on the shoreline who is holding the other end of the string that is tied around his ankle. From this moment on, whenever the film threatens to test one’s patience with its wordy meanderings on the struggle of the artist, there is always some jaw-dropping sequence of surrealism to maintain one’s interest.
The plot, such as it is, concerns Guido Anselmi (Mastroianni) a celebrated filmmaker battling a creative block while attempting to make a science fiction movie. As he struggles to generate any ideas as to what his film should be about, he is plagued on all sides by individuals from his past and his present (most of them women), some in dreams and flashbacks and some supposedly from the here and now. We say supposedly as the distinction between past and present, reality and fantasy is not always clear (8½ flits between the lot with gay abandon), which results in a storyline that will appeal most to those who don’t concern themselves too much with linear narrative.
As the story progresses and Guido is no closer to resolving his creative difficulties, the themes expand until it’s less about the problems with Guido’s film and more about whether it’s possible to be creatively fulfilled and happy in one’s personal and professional life without the need to compromise (a philosophical question often referred to as ‘the dilemma of the selfish arsehole’).
8½ is regularly voted one of the greatest films of all time, by film critics at least. While it’s certainly visually arresting, technically brilliant and effortlessly stylish (with Claudia Cardinale, Barbara Steele and Anouk Aimée, how could it not be?) it is occasionally irritating, particularly so if you’re the sort of person who can be alienated by too much navel-gazing. But it is this very self-indulgence that enables Fellini to produce an honest and insightful examination of the anxiety of the feted artist, namely, "What do I do next?” This bewilderment is encapsulated when Guido, expressing both his frustration with his artistic impotence and the vitality of his creative impulse says, “I really have nothing to say, but I want to say it all the same.”
We watch films for many different reasons. Sometimes we watch them because they have a personal meaning for us and we wish to generate the emotions that we know they’ll deliver on demand. Then there are those films that we watch for pure enjoyment and to share with some friends, films that deliver pure escapism. Then there are those films we watch to remind us of the unique possibilities offered by cinema, films that tell a story in a way impossible in any other medium and that are as close to a waking dream state as any art is capable of. 8½ is exactly that sort of film.
It also has to be said that for the most part the black-and-white image looks exceptional. The image is as crisp as you like, with whites looking Daz fresh and, if you’ve ever wondered what Blu-ray enthusiasts are on about when they talk about black black, this transfer will answer that question.
Extras: Lost Sequence – a 50-minute documentary on the making of 8½ / Interview with assistant director Lina Wertmuller / Fellini’s speech on receiving his Life Achievement Academy Award / Theatrical Trailers