8½

★★★★★

"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."

Fellini's masterpiece is a celebration of the filmmaker and finding one's self. I first saw this film immediately after seeing LA DOLCE VITA. Both films follow similar episodic and heavily metaphorical narratives, and both star Marcello Mastroianni as what many critics have considered the same character: a stand-in for Fellini himself. But whereas LA DOLCE VITA is extremely long and a bit self-indulgent, 8 1/2 is just pure joy. 8 1/2 is Fellini saying "I refuse to take myself seriously."

We follow Guido Anselmi (Mastroianni), an acclaimed filmmaker dealing with superficial celebrity-status, a new film he doesn't really want to make, a personal life that's a complete mess, and an attempt to make sense of the artistic process. The film famously opens with an abstract dream sequence of Guido caught in a gridlocked traffic jam, all the car-passengers suffocating, desperate to get out, until finally Guido breaks out of his car and ascends into the sky as a Jesus figure. I think any filmmaker struggling with the pressures of pre-production hell can relate to this imagery.

8 1/2 is less of a literal plot and more a mosaic of short scenes and scenarios within the artist's subconscious. Guido has a mistress and many rampant sexual fantasies. At one point he meets with a cardinal for spiritual guidance, but the meeting only results in flashbacks of himself as a little boy discovering La Saraghina, a grotesquely-corpulent prostitute familiar to all the children. She performs a fun little burlesque for the children on the beach that leaves a large impression on Guido's sexual awakening. Claudia Cardinale frequently appears to him as the Ideal Woman. And all through this, his wife Luisa (Anouk Aimee) is endlessly patient with him. At one point he has a sexual fantasy of being in a harem with all of these women. All these fantasies, and indeed the entire film, is a heightened reality where everyone is overly theatrical, and the extreme, looming, almost overwhelming closeups give each character a grotesque, larger-than-life beauty.

The film ends with Guido ultimately abandoning the film he doesn't want to make, but reaching a personal catharsis, coming to terms with all these characters in his life, the artist that is truer to his boyhood self, and his marriage to Luisa is strengthened. The film Guido makes, ultimately, is the one we have just seen.

There have been many attempts by others to do their own version of this film, from Woody Allen's STARDUST MEMORIES to the musical NINE. But I feel none have been truly successful because this film is so personal and so unique to Fellini and his brand of filmmaking. It's hard not to have a big smile on your face as you watch 8 1/2. The film is about the process of creating art, while also being very warm, human, and life-affirming. To Fellini, life is all one big circus, a comedy, and a fun ride. 8 1/2 is one of the few films that is truly perfect.

Part of My 115 Favorite Films of All Time

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