8½

★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

I’m deathly afraid to rewatch this absolute masterpiece, even though I know every time I watch a film of similar quality to this again I always think it’s as good or even better the second time

The opening sequence; we’re in a car in a crowded tunnel and the camera just cranes over every last one of them; at the end of the tunnel is literally a projection of other cars instead of real cars to add to the scene’s effect

After a great struggle to get out of his car he literally flies out and ends up as a kite on a beach before suddenly regaining his weight as he awakes from his dream

Fellini is definitely the single greatest world builder in film of all time; all these great asides with the characters commenting on beautiful women and the like

The Ride of the Valkyries sequence is every bit the equal of that that appears in Apocalypse Now; all the characters just turning toward the camera and the old nuns walking with their umbrellas

The moment when Mastroianni takes his glasses down after seeing Claudia for the first time may be the single greatest moment in cinema history

Very early on Mastroianni has to deal with a heckling critic which surely represents some of the shit Fellini himself got for the wholly esoteric content of virtually all of his films

Mastroianni is referred to early on by a friend as Snàporaz, the name of the protagonist of City of Women

The style of sunglasses are an absolute stroke of genius

Milo’s vainness is amazing; the things she talks about are wonderfully devoid of consequence - the veil over her eyes, her plush hat that we get a bit about between Mastroianni and a hotel worker

Heavy on the dissolves

Nice long take here holding on Mastroianni and Milo in a mirror; great opening here with the “sgulp” and “snarp” exposing their characters’ personalities

The amount of cigarette smoke in the closeup with these two at 19 minutes could kill someone

At 21 minutes begins the first surrealism sequence; he’s in his hotel room and sees his mother cleaning his wall and then he’s in a ruined courtyard and comes across his father, Annibale Ninchi from La Dolce Vita and he’s as good here as he was in LDV; unlike the scenes in the real world which are often shot in long takes, in the dreams we edit very quickly which reflects the fractured nature of dreams (and something I’ve felt about how editing should divide real world and dream sequences for a long time without knowing it was sort of a residual though from seeing this)

Mastroianni kisses his mother and all of a sudden she turns into Aimée

His gray hair here works wonders; feels like he’s been through all this before

Stunning blocking of the actors in the elevator at 24 minutes; some priests and another man obstructing eachother

Cardinale’s return is set up pretty early actually when her producer briefly meets with Mastroianni

Everybody who walks up to Mastroianni has such pretentious, selfish questions but he still receives them with a forced kindness

At 29 minutes we’re back in the plaza from the beginning and we see the Pulp Fiction dance; this sequence is probably the best 60 or so seconds in all of cinema (I’m going to say that a lot watching this film but the important part is that I’m never lying!)

I could probably answer the question about the connection between Catholicism and Marxism, as a part of one of those groups

Shared glances between Mastroianni and Milo here at the party; great editing

Lots of characters talking over eachother; the crux of Fellini’s apparent chaos style that has never been exactly replicated - though there are certainly a number who have made more than respectable attempts - in all of cinema history

Hilarious bit where Mastroianni is asked how many scenes the new film will have and he responds “Five. Maybe even six or seven” cause he’s so done with everybody’s shit at only 1/4 of the way through the film

At 36 minutes a brilliant shot as a light erupts behind a magician before we cut to his face as it becomes illuminated

The editing is some of the absolute best of all time - top 10 even - done by Leo Catozzo

Barbara Steele shines in her role as the girl who does the Pulp Fiction dance (though I suppose it really should be called the 8 1/2 dance; what surprises is that she speaks with an American accent despite being English

Mastroianni, despite his performance being so internalized, has an absolutely colossal presence on screen

Asa Nisi Masa; just the mention of that phrase returns Mastroianni to his young days living in a convent school

A constantly active background; here as he’s being talked at to his utter detriment by Lebeau we’ve got his old pal Pisu at the piano with Steele by his feet

Aimée’s introduction in the real world is over the phone; his distance from her

The lighting is genius; very high contrast

A great tracking shot through the casting director’s room with pictures of renowned young actors and actresses all over the walls

I’m not sure this is the same film if it’s in color; ok I know obviously it will be different but I’m talking about more than that

I think I may be willing to call Fellini the single greatest editor of all time after watching this but there’s a few - Ozu, Resnais, a couple others - that give me pause

You can tell Fellini is not Marxist because he doesn’t despise the decadence of his subjects like Pasolini or Bertolucci did, or at least he does not criticize them for that but instead the depth of their unfeeling; there’s an unimaginable divide between how Pasolini would direct a Fellini film and how a Fellini film actually is

It could be the best screenplay ever written; episodes like the Diomedeo howling birds that you will never forget

What is it with Fellini and overweight prostitutes he knew as a kid? Impossibly brilliant way to portray the encounters that shaped his worldview as a child

Between this and Amarcord, Fellini is the only director in history to use fast motion sequences in a respectable manner exaggerating the gestures of the actors

Kids bashing their schoolbooks on the table like it’s The 400 Blows, Where is the Friend’s Home?, or indeed Amarcord

The priests at the school tell him the prostitute on the beach is the devil

Great cutaway to these priests making a communist joke

Not really much of a narrative; Fellini takes constant asides like this wonderful segment at a sauna yet none are unwelcome

A great long take as 4 guys come up in sequence and just talk at Mastroianni as the camera takes the place of his eyes in the sauna

Even shadows like Murnau here in the sauna, jaw-dropping use of the rising steam, exceptional compositions with the Cardinals and the ending bit as the window closes… sublime

Ford and Coca Cola (hey, I approve) product placements, we’re at a car shop and it’s here we see Aimée finally; she has a hell of a scowl here very unlike her characters in La Dolce Vita or especially her larger than life Lola in Lola… very subdued here

The way Fellini directs dialogue, so many characters talking at once without becoming overwhelming (if you’re a trained viewer at least) is just staggering - I’m always leaning back because the film is so full of life I feel it will just jump off the screen at me - and half the time with the secondary characters they’re saying the most pointless stuff but it’s never less than brilliant

An early partially electronic score 10 years before Fassbinder who was himself an “early electronic score guy”

“I have vertigo”

The giant spaceship set piece is one of the greatest of all time, the scaffolding, the incompleteness of the vision - “Why couldn’t he have just used a painted backdrop?” Says Alberti the film’s producer

The film is probably second to La Dolce Vita in the argument for Nino Rota as the greatest film composer of all time

Not a shred of love exists anymore between Mastroianni and Aimée; they don’t look at eachother, hardly talk to eachother, sleep in different beds - they try to rebuild but the foundation has been dug up

Aimée looks closer to Masina here which is not a mistake

Milo’s hip sways as she heads to a table at lunch, the alternating closeups between her and Aimée… perfection

Aimée is venomous here; the perfect contrast for Mastroianni’s absolute lack of giving a shit or acceptance of any responsibility for anything

At 94 minutes the shot with Mastroianni leaning back in his chair with the shades down; one of the film’s strongest

Right after this we get the harem vision set in the abbey where he grew up; a wonderful sequence

Even Steele’s appearance inspired Mia Wallace

All the women are his slaves - a stunning vision and portrait of the artist - they all are one and the same in his mind, all except Cardinale

Mastroianni is so detached; I do think this performance probably tops his equally brilliant work in La Dolce Vita

All the women are so superficial; only interested in getting a role in his new film at least in the way he sees them

They rebel and he whips them set to Ride of the Valkyries in another stunning sequence, before everything calms down and he’s left with only Aimée

When he comes out of the dream, he’s in the theater preparing to view the screen tests which is probably the most unforgettable sequence in the film acknowledging the fact that you could say that about every minute of it

Aimée’s boy toy is a great character

“But also with deep bitterness”

The long shot at 113 minutes with Mastroianni alone in his part of the auditorium as Alberti yells up at him is magnificence incarnate, followed by the argument between him and Aimée where she leaves him… wow

Cardinale’s entrance into the real world of the film where she steps into a closeup is absolutely jaw-dropping; probably the most beautiful woman who ever lived right here and Mastroianni can only be ranked highly on the lists of most beautiful men. The entire runtime we have been waiting for her character to appear and Fellini knocks it out of the stadium into the one in the next city

A genuine crime this did not sweep the Oscars

At being forced back to the set by the producer he is totally swamped by journalists like always and Fellini makes the brilliant choice of having the camera in Mastroianni’s place forcing us to bear the brunt of their questioning

So many of their questions are of no consequence or importance as always

It’s a film where a director’s project collapses (and since the film is about his life, his life also collapses) and yet the end result is far from a collapsed film; as far as possible from that

Despite Mastroianni presenting himself as carefree and totally unconcerned with anybody else’s opinions, he has no self-security which we see here with his monologue to his idea of Aimée in his mind where he admits his love and recognizes she is the only one in the world who truly loves him and he threw her away

In the finale, everybody who once had importance in Mastroianni’s life returns to join him in one final circus; I don’t think this ending has the same impact if it’s not at the spaceship set piece

Pauline Kael panned it on release in 1963

Mastroianni makes half a film here before production stops like the title

A massive Masterpiece

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