TajLV’s review published on Letterboxd:
"Losing money is part of a producer's job." ~ Carini, the Critic
Before watching this, I was very afraid that 8½ had become the victim of its own success. There have been so many glowing reviews written about it and so many 5-star ratings awarded, I was almost certain that I was in for a disappointment. Still, the film was nominated for five Oscars and won two, so I embarked on my first viewing with guarded optimism.
Thankfully, it really is remarkable. Writer-director Federico Fellini tells the story of a famous Italian filmmaker who has lost his way in producing a new science fiction movie, not very different from Fellini's own personal struggles. In fact, as the maestro himself described it, he decided to "narrate everything that had been happening to me. I would make a film telling the story of a director who no longer knows what film he wanted to make." The title, 8½, refers to this being Fellini's ninth production, but counting as a half his collaboration on "Luci del Varietà" (Variety Lights), co-directed with Alberto Lattuada in 1950.
The film stars Marcello Mastroianni as Guido Anselmi, who tries to alleviate his "director's block" by taking the cure at a famous spa. Not only has he lost interest in his work, but he is also beset by marital problems. Through numerous memories and dreams, we discover his inner life is populated by dozens of women he has known, from his mother and nuns to prostitutes, showgirls, actresses and his wife of twenty years, Luisa (Anouk Aimée). Co-stars include Sandra Milo as his current mistress Carla, Mario Pisu as his best friend Mario Mezzabotta, and Claudia Cardinale as the actress Claudia, a potential leading lady for his stalled film.
I didn't mind the fragmented delivery of the story at all. The scenes of Anselmi's childhood are among the most entertaining, especially the episode with the local whore, La Saraghina (Eddra Gale). The costumes are sublime, the band music is appropriately circus-like, and the cinematography in black and white is superb. What's more, the film gives us penetrating insight into the craft and difficulties of directing a film (especially dealing with needy people). Terry Gilliam once cited this as his primer for how to make movies, and the list of films it has influenced includes "All that Jazz," "Nine," "Synecdoche, New York," "The Great Beauty" and many, many others.
A film really has to knock me for a loop to earn higher than four stars on a first viewing, and I can't say this struck that chord. Perhaps I will revisit it someday and rate it higher, but for now I'm calling 8½ "excellent" and I would certainly recommend it to anyone with an interest in cinema.