By Mike Derderian
Watching Federico Fellini’s film 8½, aka Otto e mezzo (1963) at first will feel like going through a nonsensical rush of clips, dialogue and characters but midway through its perspective comes into angel and chaos becomes less chaotic.
Fellini takes us inside the mangled mind of a famous Italian filmmaker, Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni), who after suffering a relapse ends up in a health spa, where he and his film crew try to piece together the ultimate idea for a film.
Imagine the following: You are sitting in a room and you are trying to concentrate and write what might turn out to be the next Weathering Heights. No wait, you can’t top that. The room is filled with people, who keep asking you questions. Do you think you will be able to write? This is what is happening to Guido. He is being pestered by everyone, his crew, producer, his blabber-mouthed mistress and his estranged wife and worst of all, his mind.
We love to think that our lives are organized; but try to recall your past, present and imagine how your future would be in a few years time and you’ll discover that nothing is organized. The smallest whiff of perfume, the smell of grass, a sentence in a book, a movie scene from your favorite film, the touch of a piece of fabric and people would help recall thousands of memories in one jolt of thinking. Sometimes these memories come to us involuntarily after being triggered by some of the above elements.
In Guido’s case it is just the opposite. He is trying to escape from reality and what better place for a person to hide from the present than h/her own head. Believing that he no longer has the edge he seeks his memories for refuge and inspiration.
Besides Mastroianni, 8½ stars Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée, Sandra Milo, Barbara Steele, Guido Alberti and Jean Rougeul as Carini, the obnoxious movie critic, who in addition to putting down Guido’s script likes to philosophize about life and the purpose of cinema.
“It’s better to destroy than create what’s unnecessary,” Carini tells Guido after having noticed how much he matured as a director with a clear vision towards life.
Mastroianni’s portrayal of the troubled film director was mesmerizing. The Italian hunk was able to transmit the angst and apathy that engulfed Guido’s soul and nearly ruined him. Cardinale, Aimée, Milo and Steele each had a character to work with and they certainly and brilliantly worked their parts well into Guido’s growth and unveiling as a person. If you want to know a man just see how he treats women.
Fellini successfully created an alpha male figure and a man who is instinctively afraid to open up and reveal his soul to the woman or all the women he loves, whether indirectly or directly. Guido is like any man out there and this is what makes Fellini’s movie a looking glass placed above us all.
Music is an integral element in a Fellini movie and Nino Rota’s musical score helped add to the disorientated spirit of the movie thus amplify the director’s vision, audibly speaking.
8½ is about the search that we do within ourselves through our childhood memories and have to do when life becomes unbearable but the secret is not to get stuck in those memories.
“I thought my ideas were so clear. I wanted to make an honest film. No lies whatsoever. I thought I had something so simple to say, something useful to everybody. A film that could help bury forever all those dead things we carry within ourselves. Instead, I’m the one without the courage to bury anything at all. When did I go wrong? I really have nothing to say, but I want to say it all the same,” Guido so wisely says and with this phrase one of the themes of modern cinema is forever solidified: Man’s inner search for truth, which reminds us of another saying by Alexander Pope, “Know then thyself, presume not God to scan, the proper study of mankind is Man.” Always look within.
Must-see-scenes: La Saraghina (Eddra Gale) performing rumba for Guido and his young friends; when Guido goes to meet the cardinal at the bathhouse (an eye opener); any scene involving Claudia Cardinale and of course my favorite scene, which is the craziest, when Guido fantasizes that all the women in his life live under one roof and are part of his harem.