Note: I wanted to cross off another film I had on my movie confession list. This week I chose 8 ½.
8 ½ is one of the most critically praised movies of all time. On Sound and Sight Magazine’s recent poll for the 10 Best Films of all time, 8 ½ ranked on tenth place for movie critics and fourth for directors. The movie is often said to be director Federico Fellini’s best work and is touted for its innovation in filmmaking.
As I was watching 8 ½, I was dazzled by its images, its emotions, its spirit. Making a movie like this is no easy accomplishment and comes once every blue moon. Many times if a movie is too hyped up I end up feeling disappointed, but 8 ½ even exceeded my expectations. It’s brilliant, extraordinary, and one of the best films ever made.
8 ½ is about a director Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni), who is supposed to represent Fellini himself. Guido is planning to make a sci-fi film but has one big problem: he is suffering from “director’s block”. As his film is slowly falling apart his personal life is doing the same exact thing. His wife Luisa (Anouk Aimee) has grown distant from him. Though Guido loves her, he can’t seem to communicate with her. His mistress Carla (Sandra Milo) is trashy and we can tell Guido doesn’t like being around her yet he embraces her.
8 ½ has multiple narratives. One part of the film is about Guido trying to organize the movie with the stars and producers. Another focuses on his personal life. And we are also presented with both fantasies and past events or both at the same time. At one moment in the film, we see Guido as a child with his school friends gazing at a dancing woman, who towers over them. When Guido is caught by the priests at the Catholic school, we see a giant picture of Dominic Savio*, who symbolizes purity. This represents Guido’s guilt from the experience.
This can create confusion and frustration among some viewers who can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy in the film but for me it is quite striking. We learn more about Guido as we travel into the depths of his mind. The film’s best scene is one of Guido’s dreams where all the women in his life live under his roof happily but then start to rebel against him, leading Guido to use a whip to tame them. While this is happening, “Ride of the Valkyries” is playing, the second best use of that song in film.
8 ½ is one of the greatest accomplishments in cinema history. The movie is full of revolutionary techniques and extraordinary ideas. The premise of 8 ½ reminded me of Adaptation (Charlie Kaufman, who wrote Adaptation, also paid homage to 8 ½ in Synecdoche, New York). Though 8 ½ is a movie about a director out of ideas, the movie is far from that.
Much credit has to be given to Marcello Mastroianni, who makes the movie feel real. I’m not kidding when I am saying this, Mastroianni’s performance is one of the best I have ever seen. We can really capture his pain and frustration in the film and his dilemma feels real. Very little actors allow you to let you fully understand their characters, and Mastroianni falls into this minority.
But what really makes 8 ½ a masterpiece is Federico Fellini. I have to confess that this is the only film I have seen from Fellini and after watching 8 ½ I now want to see more of his work. Fellini’s direction is superb and matches Orson Welles’ from Citizen Kane. He paces the movie well and keeps our eyes on the screen when he wants to and manipulates our emotions with such force. Fellini adds such meticulous detail and imagination to the film I
The story, written by Fellini as well as Ennio Flaiano, Tullo Pinelli, and Brunello Rondi, is superb. The script is completely absorbing and very detailed. It carries the entire film and really is masterfully written.
I’m still working on a Top 10 list that should come out soon. Though I haven’t really come up with all the spots, I’m sure that 8 ½ will take a slot in it. Not is it one of the most brilliant films I’ve ever see, not just because it has some of the best acting ever, not because the story and direction are as perfect as it could be, but because it leaves an impact on you that’s sure to change the way you view film.
*I discovered this from Roger Ebert’s essay on the film