Edgar Cochran’s review published on Letterboxd:
No matter how complicated and uncommon may accurately portraying metafilm be, few directors have accomplished to totally comprehend what filmmaking really means. The power of the words in a well-developed script, a cinematography and an editing that can go beyond our own words, a sublime direction like the one that could only come from a "giant of cinema", performances that are so great that they end up seeming extremely natural and the use of a beautiful original musical score that works for every scene of the film are characteristics that rarely can be found in a single movie. Federico Fellini, being one of my favorites "giants of cinema", directs what for many people's opinion (including mine) is his definitive masterpiece and the most representative sample of his visionary capacity of filmmaking, without mentioning that it is one of the best movies ever made by mankind.
8½ depicts the story of a director named Guido who is retired from the movie business and who starts to turn to the past memories of his childhood and youth, coming to a point where he combines reality and fantasy. The movie won two Academy Awards for Best Costume Design, Black-and-White and Best Foreign Language Film, and had 3 other nominations for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White losing against America, America (1963), Best Director losing against Tony Richardson for Tom Jones (1963) and Best Writing, Story and Screenplay - Written Directly for the Screen losing against How the West Was Won (1963). I totally disagree with the Academy Awards' choice for giving Tom Jones and How the West Was Won their respective Oscars.
There are many important points to emphasize about the direction. In order to give such grandiosity like the one given to 8½ Federico Fellini was the only and most adequate director for the job back in the 60's. His spectacular vision inspired several filmmakers and directors in the future. On the other hand, this is his second movie that shows the total change that Federico Fellini gave to his filmmaking style since he left the neorealist subgenre, being his most prominent and famous films La Strada (1954) and Le Notti di Cabiria (1957), both having the wonderful leading performances of one of my favorite actresses: Giulietta Massina. Once he concluded this stage, he directed his second best film called La Dolce Vita in 1960, where it is clearly shown how he stops portraying the constant struggle of the society that lives in poor life conditions which was represented in a single person in postwar times (unlike the society shown in its totality, like the one Roberto Rosellini brought to the screen in Roma, Città Aperta ) and starts to depict high class society in a very artistic and comical way. Whereas Fellini's neorealism focused on the struggle for survival in difficult life situations, La Dolce Vita and 8½ make emphasis on the existence of the individual, which normally relies on the role of the protagonist of the story.
This movie has one of the best screenplays I have ever seen in my entire life. Besides being complex, poetic, intelligent and well-structured, it significantly helped the film to create particularly difficult and elaborate scenes concerning the appearance of the characters on the screen with their respective dialogues and the surrealism that some of these contained. The script also helps us distinguish between the fantasy and the reality that govern Guido's mind, constantly mixing each other. Federico Fellini created the story of 8½ with Ennio Flaiano, screenwriter that worked with Fellini several times in the past, and they both created the film's screenplay with the help of the talented screenwriters Tullio Pinelli and Brunello Rondi. These 4 brilliant writers worked together for the first time with the screenplay of La Dolce Vita. The fact that the screenplay of 8½ hadn't won an Oscar is beyond me.
The grandiosity of most of the scenes in 8½ comes from the script, but if it hadn't been because of the brilliant edition, these would have never resulted the way they ended up being. The cinematography is outstanding, offering a vast variety of landscapes and both open and closed spaces, and the shots are incredibly constructed. If you put all of these elements together alongside with Fellini's vision, 8½ ends up being one of the most poetical and beautiful films ever made in cinema history. The camera seems to play with the actors and with the different filming locations in which the story is set, dancing to the sound of the wonderful musical score created by Nino Rota. 8½ is brilliance taken to the extreme; it is like if literature and cinema had fallen in love.
The performances were excellent. Marcello Mastroianni, playing the protagonist's role once more, brilliantly performs the confused, depressed, lost and nostalgic mind that Guido possesses from beginning to end. The famous actress Claudia Cardinale and Academy Award nominee Anouk Aimée also did a splendid job as supporting actresses. The cast was excellently chosen.
8½ focuses on the human side that very few films focused for that time, and that even nowadays modern directors find difficulty in portraying correctly, just like Woody Allen paid homage to Fellini with his movie Stardust Memories (1980). Guido is found in a constant fight against his own emotions and memories in order to give his life sense and a meaning, and more than knowing what it is that he should do next with his life in order to be happy, what he really seems to be looking for the whole time is the very meaning of his actions and how these are related with the meaning of his existence. The constant failure leads him to perdition and to confuse reality with fantasy. That is why in the end of the film, which I will not dare to mention, is very revealing, not mentioning that several times we are also going through that difficult phase of confusion and loss of faith.
Something that is very characteristic from Guido's psychology is that he finds (or tries to find) comfort with his own filmic creations, like if these actually existed and had played a very important role in Guido's real life. He comes to a point of such low self-esteem that the simple fact of starting again distinguish his own characters from the people he knew in real life terrifies him. He doesn't know whom to ask for help just as he doesn't know where to find consolation. Incredibly enough, the movie feels like if it were talking to the majority of its audience, since statistically speaking most of the people worldwide have been in that situation at least once. That is why 8½ is for me and for many people a masterpiece that can really move us in a very personal way.
Another slightly treated topic in 8½ is the controversy that we as persons find when we disguise our own depression and/or the effect that personal problems we have, whether these are small or big or whether they have a possible solution or not, may have in us, without knowing if we are doing the right thing or it should be considered as hypocrisy. Although the film does not give a straight and concrete answer, it is left to the viewer's own interpretation. In my opinion, Guido could have prevented losing himself to such degree once he abandoned one of his greatest passions, and that is precisely what we also incorrectly tend to do. Life is characterized by the constant changes that our life plans suffer and the numerous obstacles it presents so we can strengthen ourselves as human beings: No matter how difficult it may be to believe, life will never put us into situations that we can't handle or overcome. If it did, then why were we born in the first place? Where would the purpose that God assigned us when he gave us the beautiful gift of life be?
Ironically, a possible title that had been planned for 8½ was "La Bella Confusione", which means "The Beautiful Confusion". That working title makes us think that the magic of life comes from our constancy of making of our lives something wonderful, unique and different from the life of anyone else. It is definitely the most beautiful confusion we may ever have, and more than a "confusion", it is a search.
Although the title of 8½ caused controversy even among film critics because it was interpreted as a way Fellini used to show off, considering that the title came out from the fact that this is the eighth movie that Fellini directed including a segment of the movie Boccaccio '70 (1962), that doesn't stop 8½ from being one of the most personal and complete cinematographic masterpieces. Its brilliance goes beyond what words could describe for themselves. Whether you like cinema or not, I can't conceive the idea of someone who spent his whole life without seeing 8½ .