This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Mika Perzyna’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Wow, what a picture. Everything comes together perfectly with masterful precision, and yet it maintains a vibe of organised chaos. The entire film revolves around the character of Guido Anselmi, a successful film director struggling through a sudden artistic crisis midway through production on his new film. Guido, who's clearly intended as a stand-in for Fellini himself, is given plenty of life thanks to an incredibly memorable performance by Marcello Mastroianni. It somewhat reminded me of Zbigniew Cybulski's performance in Ashes and Diamonds where he moves in these cartoonishly exaggerated ways, even the smallest gesture having theatricality to it. Only Cybulski's youthfulness is replaced with Mastroianni's middle-aged suavity. I really love this type of performance, but it absolutely doesn't work for every film. Thankfully, 8½ lends itself to it perfectly, with its grand scale and pandemonious presentation.
I often find it interesting that for the first time in history, we're living in a time where an artist can garner wealth and influence simply from creating art. 8½ plays with this idea in some very fun and interesting ways, being unafraid to point out its absurdity. Guido is far from the archetypal figure of an Artist we tend to see on-screen. Sure, he creates art. In fact, by all accounts, he creates fairly good art. But he lives a life of comfort and seems to exist on a separate plane of existence from the arguably outdated bohemian ideals we sometimes associate with his vocation. The irony is that Guido is given everything he could possibly need to make his films, and yet it's in spite of that they end up being art. This paradox is, of course, still very present in today's film industry.
The ending makes it crystal clear, though. Despite all appearances, Guido is still an artist. The fact he was unable to turn a sci-fi flick into something worthwhile and meaningful doesn't negate that. In a scene that can only be described as Felliniesque, Guido channels all his (self-admittedly very minor) struggled into the creation of something beautiful. And much like how Fellini made 8½ out of his artistic burnout, Guido directs a dance that appears to be straight out of a corny circus act. A parade around a monument to failure that he himself joins. If you were to ask Paco, his producer, he would undoubtedly tell you Guido didn't do his job, but we see from the ending that's untrue. He's an artist and he created a meaningful, deeply-personal piece of art. And that's something all artists should actively aspire to.