Classic Movie Review: 8 1/2 (1963)

Title8 1/2
Release Date: 14 February 1963
Director: Federico Fellini
Production Company: Cineriz | Francinex

Noted Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini had made 8 films on his own and one collaboration (hence 8 1/2) when he came up with the idea for his next film to be what would happen if a director forgot what movie he was making.  Marcello Mastroianni plays a famous director, Guido Anselmi, suffering from a creative block as he works on an epic science fiction movie.  He goes to a spa to try to relax and recover but his producer, production assistants, actors, and critics all follow him there. He’s continually pestered to work on the film while being unable to tell them anything about the movie, even to tell the actors the parts they will play.

Much of the movie depicts Guido’s feverish dreams and memories of his past. The line between his reality at the spa and what is happening in his mind is deliberately blurred. His mistress, Carla (Sandra Milo), arrives but he is not too happy to see her and puts her up at another hotel.  He also invites his estranged wife, Luisa (Anouk Aimée), to join him, setting up an obvious conflict. (Oddly, Luisa appears to be younger and more attractive than Carla which seems to defy the way philanderer’s typically think). He idealizes a third woman, Claudia (Claudia Cardinale), who he thinks can save his film and redeem himself. The most famous part of the movie is when Guido imagines all the women in his life in a harem, caring for him like a child, a scene that is incredibly sexist but also reveal his deep character flaws.

I found the movie overlong, although the last hour is very strong after a slow start. I’ve always hated songs about musicians bemoaning being on “the road” since it seems to just be complaining about their job, and this movie is the director’s equivalent.  Nevertheless, Mastroianni’s charming and nuanced performance of the deeply flawed Guido makes it a worthwhile exercise.  Fellini’s eye as director is also evident in the remarkable he way frames shots, edits, and weaves in the hallucinatory visions.

This is definitely a movie everyone should watch at least once, and probably more than once to catch the small details.

Note: The soundtrack includes several familiar classical music pieces as Guido and co. attempt to work on a science fiction space epic.  I think it’s interesting that just a few years later, Stanley Kubrick would make a science fiction space epic with a soundtrack of familiar classical music pieces, although I don’t know if there’s any intentionality.

Rating: ****