Directed by Federico Fellini
with Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk
Aimee, and Sandra Milo, black and
white, 138 minutes, music by Nino Rota, 1963
of Blu-Ray edition
By Carter B. Horsley
surreal and imaginative 1963 masterpiece by
director Federico Fellini is an excursion into the psyche of an artist
overwhelmed by the challenges of continuing his creativity after a
He is also
challenged by the fact that he - Guido played by Marcello Mastroianni -
is the best looking man in the movies.
movie, he plays Guido, a movie director. He shares Cary Grant's
whimsical mirth and drop-dead-to-die-for good looks, but he is not as
farcical. Despite such blessings, his life apparently is not perfect.
start of the movie, we are in the backseat of his car stuck in a
traffic jam and we do not see his face. The front seat begins to fill
up with smoke and he finds the doors and windows locked and desperately
tries to kick out the windows without success.
At last, he
discovers the car's sun roof and escapes to rise up in the clouds
tethered like a kite held by one of his assistants who eventually pull
him down from the clouds and his veritable life-and-death experience.
floating in the sky
He then is
pestered by a critic, his friends, his producer and others about details for his
next magnum opus.
Marcello with critic
He goes to a spa where old ladies blow him kisses and he runs
Daumier, a film critic, who tells him his film script is no good.
He also runs into an old friend with a new mistress, played by Barbara
Steele, the star of numerous bad horrow films.
Claudia Cardinale, a
heavenly angel at the spa
Then he sees a vision of
loveliness, portrayed by Claudia Cardinale, who offers him a refreshing
drink of the spa's waters but when he accepts it he sees that she is
not the gorgeous Cardinale but a plain-looking woman.
The film shifts its timeline not
just with past and present but also dreams but the shifts are not
razzle-dazzle but mesmeric.
In one early scene he encounters
his father at a cemetery who complains, calmly, that he wished the
ceiling of his vault was higher and then is escorted by Guido outside
where he descends, with Guido's help after being kissed passionately on
his lips by his mother, into a grave in front of an enormous long,
unfinished wall of serious architectural import.
The Blu-ray edition of the film contains a booklet with
several excellent essays as well as comments by Fellini.
Guido helps his father into a grave
In his essay, "A Film With Itself As Its Subject," Alexander Sesonske,
a professor emeritus of film studies and philosophy at the University
of California at Santa Barbara, provides the following commentary:
Ah, the spa's waters
"Its surface flow of images dazzles us with sharp contrasts of black
and white, startling eruptions from offscreen, unexpected changes of
scene, and a virtuoso display of all the possibilities and effects of
camera movement. We find almost a catalog of humanity in its
stream of faces; some of them are momentary visions, while others
persist through the film and long after in our memory, such as
Saraghina, that lumbering monster transformed into the embodiment of
joyous life and movement...
"But Fellini's brilliance reaches beyond the surface to include an
intricate structure of highly original, highly imaginative scenes whose
conjunction creates an unprecedented interweaving of memories,
fantasies, and dreams with the daily life of the hero alter ego, Guido
Anselmi. This, more than anything probably, made 8 1/2 the most
influential film of the 1960s, liberating filmmakers everywhere from
the conventions of time, place, and mode of experience that had
prevailed in cinema for decades...
"In a film in which almost every scene is memorable, within its own
pace and ambience, its characteristic forms of movement and emotional
tone, some scenes are extraordiary: a childhood reminiscence of a
farmhouse overflowing with warmth, love, and security, and an ascent
into an enchanted darkness where the magical words asa nisi masa promise welath and
happiness; a boyhood flight from the stifling confines of a Catholic
school to the voluptuous marvels of Sarahina's rhumba, with its
grotesque aftermath of cruel punishment and guilt; young Guido being
told that Saraghina is the devil, though a Dantean descent into hell
reveals a cardinal enthroned at the center of the inferno, solemnly
repeasting that there is no salvation outside the church; a whirling,
riotous harem scene that mocks the absurdities of male fantasy.
Mastroianni with Anouk Aimee, who plays his wife
In a 1964 interview with Gideon Bachman, Fellini provides the following
"I don't think that I create heroes in my films
in the conventional romantic or poetic sense. But there is always
someone, like Guido in 8 1/2, who fights against the monsters,
against neuroticism and fear, against the real dangers. His story can
be told in many ways, but it is always the same story... Take 8 1/2.
It could have been a fairy story. The Saraghina could really have been
a dragon that spat fire, Guido's wife could have been an inquisitor who
condemned him, and the cardinal could have been another monster from
the flames of darkness... I simply told it as I did because for me this
was the most congenial manner. It reaches people better; I think it's
the more modern way. But the hero is really there: he is the one who in
all the fairy tales succeeds in possessing the feeling of his own life,
after cleaning up all the monsters that want to devour him.
"I feel that an artist always
talks about himself, and that the simple, daily things that go into a
film should bear witness to being the fruits of the artist's anguish
and concern. I don't want to sound as though I know the final answer. I
keep seeking. Actually, that's all I want to show: that I am seeking. I
don't want to make pictures so that they can be 'understood.' This
whole business about clarity seems to me to be be some kind of an
aristocratic game, like heirs gossiping at a funeral. All I want in my
pictures is a real man, who lives a real life, who worries about money,
about his wife, about the Church and about his work. You know what I
don't understand? I don't understand when people say they don't
understand. You watch the story of a man who tells you about his work,
his mistresses, his troubles, his relationship to God. There is nothing
to understand. There is just listening and feeling whether the problems
of this man are your own problems. That's all."
Mastroianni meets his
mistress, played by Sandra Milo, at the train station
In his May 28, 2000
review of the film, Roger Ebert made the following observations about
Anouk Aimee as washerwoman/wife
plays Guido as a man exhausted by his evasions, lies and sensual
appetites. He has a wife, Anouk Aimee, chic and intellectual, who he
loves but cannot communicate
with, and a mistress, Sandra Milo,
cheap and tawdry, who offends his taste but inflames his libido. He
manages his affairs so badly that both women are in the spa town at the
same time, along with his impatient producer, his critical writer, and
uneasy actors who hope or believe they will be in the film. He finds
not a moment's peace. Happiness,
Guido muses late in the film, 'consists of being able to tell the truth
without hurting anyone.' That gift has not been mastered by Guido's
writer, who tells the director his film is 'a series of complete
senseless episodes,' and 'doesn't have the advantage of the avant-garde
films, although it has all of the drawbacks.'
camera is endlessly delighting. His actors often seem to be dancing
rather than simply walking. I visited the set of his 'Fellini
Satyricon' and was interested to see that he played music during
every scene (like most Italian directors of his generation, he didn't
record sound on the set but post-synched the dialogue). The music
brought a lift and subtle rhythm to their movements."
The movie's score by Nino Rota is very
memorable, haunting and enchanting.
Marcello taking a bath
in his harem and flapping his hands like a child
The movie has a great many marvelous
scenes: Marcello dancing by himself in a hallway; his running away from
acquaintances in the spa's great lobby; juxtaposition of interesting
faces; multiple flares in a scene near the "spaceship"; the harem scene
where he is undressed and carried in a large towel to a soapy bath
while still wearing his signature Borsalino-like wide-brim black hat;
his whipping of women in the harem; a burlesque queen prancing about;
his wife scrubbing the floors in the harem; his fascination with
magician and his mysterious lady assistant in a plaza...
Marcello taking charge at his harem where the women over 30 are sent
producer insists he shows up at a news conference about his film at the
"spaceship" ends up with Marcello crawling under the table and shooting
himself before being amused by a construction worker doing a jig and
then commandering his assembled actors and friends and workers and the
press to prance around a large circus-type ring in a dance that is
almost reminiscent of the dance of death at the end of "The Seventh
Seal" (see The City Review article).
Marcello not using his whip in keeping his "gang" dancing around the
scene is couple with a couple of hundred of his group descending a
broad construction staircase at the base of the "spaceship," in what
would appear to be, wrongly, the film's spectacular finale.
Claudia Cardinale laughs and observes that "no one can tell you
escapes in a car with his "perfect" woman, Claudia and who ravishingly
laughs at him and us while crouching in a doorway.
The Blu-ray edition of the film contains some excellent extra features
including an audio commentary by Fellini's friend Gideon Backman, an
hour-log documentary from 1969 on the director's notebook, details
about the original last sequence Fellini planned for the film on a
train car, a 48-minute documentary on composer Nino Rota, a great 27-minute
interview with Sandra Milo, who was for 17 years Fellini's mistress;
and an interesting 18-minute interview with Lina Wertmuller who served as an
assistant director on the film. The features are fascinating.
Page of The City Review
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