Directed by: Federico Fellini
Written by: Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, Brunello Rondi
Starring: Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimée, Sandra Milo
Just like a film, life is a production where we are all the director. We all have our own personal flairs, shortcomings, and triumphs. This film allows the audience to enter the mind of a filmmaker and go through a journey of frustration and while we enjoy the results, we have to deal with a bit of self-indulgence.
This story follows Guido (Marcello Mastroianni) on his journey of making another film but suffers from not being able to put everything together artistically. He wants to make something that will make a difference and leave a lasting impact but does not have the inspiration to do so. This prompts him with the opportunity to reflect on his life and the decisions he has made, which involves many different women. Those that are there within his grasp and others that seem to be unattainable.
Going into this film, there were so many different perspectives I heard that provided a framework as to how this viewing experience would be. Some hail the film as one of the greatest ever made and others see it as a self-indulgent bore made by a very old and horny filmmaker. I was excited to see where I would land on it and while I do acknowledge the fact that director, Federico Fellini, is very full of himself, I cannot deny that this film employs incredible storytelling and displays excellence in its execution. The film looks gorgeous and the framing of every shot shows the work of a very mature filmmaker with incredible confidence in his craft. That cannot be denied. Additionally, it tells a proficient story about the frustrations of artistic expression and the ills of lacking inspiration.
Guido represents any artist trying to leave their mark in this world. Sure, they can make commercial fanfare that will get them money and acclaim, but there reaches a point where someone wants to leave a legacy. Something that will undoubtedly define their work many years after they have passed from this world. A line of thinking that starts to creep into one’s conscience upon reaching a certain age. Guido reaches an age where he cannot perform in the same way as an artist or a man. This prompts him to bring on a critic to look at his ideas and parse through the meaning of his work. It forces him to look back and draw inspiration from the women of his life. Each woman each represents something in Guido’s psyche. Whether it be representation of the man he wants to become or the reality that sinks in and defines him. The most important woman that persists through his fantasies and desires remains his wife, which contains the most complex relationship in the entire film.
While looking at the psyche of a man, 8 ½ also focuses on the filmmaking process and all of the moving pieces that must come together to create a film. All art makes a political statement and Guido finds himself trying to work through those machinations to tell his story. Guido meets with a bishop of the Catholic Church to work through how he wants to tell his story. An institution that has its own priorities and Guido finds that out very quickly. Creating a film involves so many people and Guido represents an artist trying to express himself while the producers of the film just want to make the film. The fight between profit and artistry rears its head but displays a very important aspect of filmmaking. A constant battle of an industry that wants to make lasting art but also needs to meet the bottom line and stay in business. That push and pull can ruin a studio or a director and that frustration becomes palpable throughout the film.
Federico Fellini has been named a legend for a reason and he displays it with his directorial work in 8 ½ and his other features. Going into this film with high expectations paid dividends as I experienced masterwork from one of the great directors in world cinema. Even when being far too self-indulgent, he crafts a personal story of impotence and how it blocks his ability to perform in many facets of his life. A film that could only be created by someone who has lived life and looks back on his successes and the points on their checklist still needing to be crossed off.