8½

★★★★★

Every so often you have the fortune of partaking in what feels like learning a sacred secret of cinema. My viewing of Federico Fellini's 8 1/2 felt very much like that from the opening frames.

A great plethora of films concerning creative blocks and the film-making process can all be lumped together after a time, crossing down familiar avenues and bullet points one expects in a story about the creative process. Quite astonishingly, 8 1/2 travels through none of the expected, opting of course for Fellini's patented Italian neo-realism mixed with fantastic surrealism. There are such gorgeous sequences throughout the entire film that one feels in debt to commit them to memory; the opening dream, the complete bombardment of individuals overwhelming Guido with responsibilities at every turn, the Harem, that circus ring ending. Each scene moves with the rhythm of a great orchestra, characters flowing smoothly as the camera glides from first person perspective to the third. Simply stunning. Marcello Mastroianni carries all the egoism, adulterous nature, lying, self-pity, nostalgia and unbridled confusion of Guido Anselmi under his wings effortlessly; a fully-formed cinematic being. Fellini's choice of overdubbed dialogue moves through waxing and musings inside philosophical prisms, containing all the film's themes of creation, modernity, loneliness, deceit and truth. Non-American cinema has always had a stronger grasp of conversing with philosophical dialogue that doesn't feel contrived, and 8 1/2 is no different.

Remarkable as well is the usage of sound. You can be forgiven for thinking something is off in the beginning with no musical score and the intermittent usage of in-scene sound effects. Certainly sets that surreal mood. Nino Rota's musical score also adds the extra flavour of bravado, isolation and contemplation that the film needs to maintain its prominent tone, alongside the usage of some well-known pieces from the likes of Wagner.

At its core, outside its immaculate presentation and neo-realistic structure, 8 1/2 possesses a simple story. Of the difficulty of creation, one man's frequent personal struggles and the encroaching walls of the modern world. Is 8 1/2 victim to Fellini's self-involvement of his own directorial struggles? A film that exists purely by what is considered by some to be the ultimate sign of a failing storyteller, that of the creation of a creation? If this is self-indulgence, then many should be so self-indulgent, at least those with the power of Fellini. 8 1/2 is a poignant example of one drawing from what they know to masterful effect, while throwing the blinds over the sea of similar stories, and fundamentally cementing itself as the go-to example of a film about making films.

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