It is time for yet another Fellini movie, this time “8½” from 1963.
I have been lackluster at best when it comes to Fellini’s movies, so it may not say much, but I think “8½” is the best of his movies so far. Or maybe I have just gotten used to these Italian movies and lowered my tolerance threshold.
“8½” is a strange movie. One of those that are impossible to describe, you just have to see it. It sounds like a comedy: A director is trying to make a movie, but it is all a big mess. Actors and particularly actresses crowd around him asking him what their parts are, a monstrous spaceship set is being built on a beach, producers, critics and journalists are all jabbering for a attention and in the middle of all this both the mistress and the wife of the director shows up on set. Meanwhile the director has no idea what movie he is going to make, instead he is simply stalling.
This sounds familiar, as if at least parts have been used in other comedies, and it sounds hilariously funny, but in “8½” the angle is different, sort of. It is undeniable that there is a bitter humor to this, but Fellini tries to play it a lot deeper. His director, Guido, (Marcello Mastroianni) wants to make a movie about himself (with a spaceship!) and it seems as if Fellini wanted to make a movie about himself, making a movie about himself. Yet, Guido is more lost than we must hope Fellini ever was. He is constantly searching and in doubt. He seeks out women and cannot let them go again, something to do with his childhood supposedly, and that is both causing him endless trouble, but also make him look sad. Except that most of these women are phenomenally beautiful: Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée, Sandra Milo, Barbara Steele just to mention some of them. To me he reminds me of a child who ate too many cookies and got a bad stomach pain.
Guido is clearly stranded in his life, groping for meaning and answers. In his mind his dreams play out as surrealist movies, but they rarely provide any answers. The opening sequence with a man trapped in a car in a giant traffic jam only to finally break out and fly away, seems symptomatic for Guido. He is trapped in his life and in his role as a successful director.
So we have this odd combination of a setting that is clearly, outrageously so, comedic, and a story that is a lot more profound and even sad. It is both somewhat confusing and rewarding as if Fellini is using comedy to tell a serious story, or is making fun of his own problems.
Without revealing too much I think it is safe to say that the situation spirals out of control and when Guido finally finds release he has all the characters dance in a chain resembling the divine comedy, a fatalistic surrender to life as it is, accepting it instead of fighting it. Supposedly the right morale to draw from this.
The mix of normality and surreal dream sequences is inspired. They work very well to give us glimpses of Guido’s thoughts and they are all hilarious to watch, especially the harem scene. Ironically Guido’s reality is catching up with his dreams and is getting even more surreal than what his mind can concoct. I have more trouble with all the Italian craziness, of everybody shouting and throwing up their arms, but that is what you are in for, watching Italian movies.
Wikipedia writes that “8½” is now considered to be one of the greatest films of all time. I doubt I would go that far. Let me stick to “one of the greatest Fellini films of all time”.