Director: Federico Fellini
Screenplay: Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, Brunello Rondi
Based on a Story by: Federico Fellini & Ennio Flaiano
Starring: Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimée, Claudia Cardinale, Sandra Milo
Producer: Angelo Rizzoli
Running Time: 138 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
I tend to open my reviews with my own personal approach to or expectations for a film prior to viewing it and I'll get to that for this title. This time around I also have a very personal caveat to my thoughts though. My wife had a baby a little over a week ago so my film watching and reviewing priorities have been disturbed somewhat. I still plan to review films and keep things ticking over at Blueprint: Review, but I imagine getting around to it will become a little more difficult and my focus might be a little more fuzzy. My first attempt to 'stay in the game' whilst on my paternity leave was to watch my Blu-Ray screener of 8 1/2, albeit in two parts with the sound turned fairly low. Below are my thoughts on the film.
Now, I had only actually seen one film from the much loved Italian director Federico Fellini prior to 8 1/2. That was La Dolce Vita and I must admit I wasn't the biggest fan of it. Although it contained some wonderful sequences, I struggled to engage with the rambling, freewheeling structure and felt the well-trodden theme of the superficiality of fame and the bourgeoisie wasn't interesting enough to hold up such a lengthy running time. So I was a little worried about biting into another long and loose reel of celluloid from Fellini. Thankfully 8 1/2 clicked with me much more successfully.
The film is loosely autobiographical, following Guido (Marcello Mastroianni), a director suffering from director's block who is staying in a luxury spa whilst pre-production frantically takes place on his next film. Queues of crew members, wannabe actresses, agents and journalists hound him constantly, demanding to know how he wishes to progress with his film and what it all means. He himself doesn't know and Guido, along with the viewer, gets lost in a web of chaotic reality and surreal fantasy as he delves into his memory and psyche to unknot his blockage.
Like with La Dolce Vita, there isn't really a clear-cut narrative, the film is more of a dizzying string of scenes around a theme (although the introduction of Guido's wife Luisa, played by Anouk Aimée, adds a little structure towards the end). Perhaps helped by the fact that I watched the film in two parts (which I very rarely do), 8 1/2 worked more effectively for me in this loose structure than Fellini's previous film though. The fact that it's about director's block helped justify the lack of narrative development and the subject matter of filmmaking (with a healthy dose of love/passion too) was better suited to my tastes on top of that. The film is also very self-referential, with a critical co-writer constantly questioning the lack of aims and structure to the film (he's literally referring to the film-within-a-film, but of course what he's saying fits with the actual film too). This post-modern slant makes for a fascinating and thought-provoking watch.
The whole affair is also kept very entertaining by a great sense of farce. The film production going on around them that nobody seems to know anything about is quite ridiculous and Guido's complex love-life is a bit of a burlesque too as he juggles a wife with a mistress and other passionate desires. This all culminates in a lengthy fantasy sequence where he lives with a harem of women (built up from those he's fallen for throughout his life). Moving from being pampered like a baby to cracking his whip at them like a lion-tamer, this is an enjoyably ludicrous sequence which helps buoy the film through its 2 and quarter hour running time.
What really drew me in though was how breathtakingly cinematic the film is. Fellini plays with all manner of filmmaking tricks and techniques to craft this visually stunning work of art. From fast-moving claustrophobic scenes where Guido is bombarded with questions, to the clean, spacious framing of the flashbacks, to the unusual, quite expressionistic dream sequences, the film is a veritable smorgasbord of the art of cinema. The high contrast cinematography from Gianni Di Venanzo is eye-popping too, perfectly complementing Fellini's often very long takes and complex staging.
I wouldn't say I was fully engrossed throughout (which wasn't helped by my precious new distraction) so I still feel Fellini's wild and free approach isn't totally for me (thus the not-quite-perfect score), but there is so much to love here it's hard not to call 8 1/2 a masterpiece.
8 1/2 is out on now in the UK on DVD & Blu-Ray, released by Argent Films. I was sent the Blu-Ray version to review. The picture is clean and sharp although the contrast was very high which means there isn't a lot of detail in the darker and brighter scenes – this may be as originally intended though. I haven't seen any previous releases to compare. Audio seems strong although I must say I had the volume quite low as my daughter was sleeping near the TV.
There are a handful of special features. First and foremost is a 50 minute documentary called 'Lost Sequence – Fellini on Fellini'. This is made up of audio interviews with the director over hundreds of stills from the making of 8 1/2 as well as some interviews with cast and crew. Fellini talks about the film in general whereas most of the others talk about the infamous 'lost scene', set on a train, which was intended as the original ending, a sequence shot, but now destroyed. I found this documentary a little rambling, but it has some interesting aspects here and there.
Also included is a 16 minute interview with Lina Wertmuller (the first woman ever to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Director). She was the Assistant Director on 8 1/2 and here reminisces about Fellini and his practises. This is not massively illuminating, but is worth a look. We also get a transcription of Fellini's speech given at the Oscars in 1993 when he received an honorary award as well as a bunch of trailers.