Federico Fellini is one of the most renowned and celebrated film directors of all time, especially in film circles. His name is often found among the likes of Bergman, Kurosawa, Kubrick, and Renoir as the most influential filmmakers in the industry. Arguably his most famous film, from a catalogue of highly regarded films, is 8 ½, a unique film about the filmmaking process. Fellini was living la dolce vita when his film was nominated for five Academy Awards (including Best Director and Best Original Screenplay) winning two of them for Best Foreign Film and Best Costume Design.
8 ½ (named so because Fellini had previously made seven features and two episodes in composite films, which add up to a half, before 8 ½) is about a filmmaker (partly based on Fellini) named Guido who struggles to get his big screen film about his own life, that bizarrely involves a rocket ship, on to screen. Guido is troubled by his messy private life (both his wife and mistress are at the same spa) and is hounded by merciless a press and demanding producers (the latter threaten to destroy him if the film is never made).
8 ½ is a dialogue heavy film, and with its frequent trips into surreal fantasy, it becomes a difficult watch, ensuring that the film makes for often compelling, if challenging, viewing for the viewer to keep up with the dialogue, of which comes thick and fast, heavy film. Keeping up with the fast flowing dialogue is one film’s most challenging aspects, every character appears to be talking over each other, and this brilliantly captures the impression that Guido is being bombarded by many different voices which are effectively stifling his creative vision.
The overwhelming task of keeping up with the constant flow of dialogue goes some way in matching the crushing pressures Guido has to cope with as the various mounting demands of producers and his collaborators take their toll on a tired Guido (there’s a brilliant scene upon arriving at the spa where Guido moves from conversation to conversation without any respite from the demands of his family and collaborators). His creative vision isn’t allowed to flourish as actors, producers, writers, lovers, and family all cause him to lose interest in his autobiographical film.
Like much of his work 8 ½ is a bizarre mix of reality mixed in with surreal dreams, the opening sequence where a man in trapped in a car as the fumes begin to suffocate him capture what is about to come as Guido is soon suffocated by the many demands of coworkers and family. The crisp black and white photography is outstanding and snap changes between reality and fiction are so sudden it’s easy to be taken aback when you suddenly find yourself watching a surreal sequence, such as the dream like scene where Guido is the master of a house run entirely by the women in his life.
It’s certainly an indulgent film, almost punishingly overlong, but it’s a must view for anyone with a deep interest in cinema. It’s a unique film by a director confident enough to add his own stamp on a film. Strangely, for a film about a man who feels he has nothing to say, 8 ½ has a lot to see regarding the filmmaking process.