"Enough of symbolism and these escapist themes of purity and innocence."
Federico Fellini is more known as a master craftsman over a compelling storyteller. I am not saying that his stories are not interesting - they are just often overshadowed by his more obvious skills. One film, 8 1/2, is an exception to this idea. For me, this is a film that is all about story. There are noticeable Fellini-isms in the production, but nothing can distract me from one of the most telling stories of attempted self discovery that I have seen in film.
This is a film about filmmaking that does not glorify or simplify the profession. It is about a director named Guido who is being pressured by his colleagues, wife and mistress to get back into the game and make a decent picture. The problem is that Guido does not have an interesting story to tell, nor is he in a place mentally to even be working. He is constantly slipping in and out of reality as the pressure becomes too much for him to handle. 8 1/2 begins to resemble a dream or nightmare that only Guido can interpret. He is a man incapable of loving anything. Perhaps he is reaching out to nothing in hopes of being rewarded with a proper soul. Fellini may be the only man with the answer.
This is exactly what makes this film interesting. It combines everything that is good about drama, surrealism, neo-realism and ridiculousness to create a world that is hard to understand, but easy to follow. We are forced to try and interpret Guido's thoughts. But we do not want to. He is a deeply troubled man. His mind has painted complicated and twisted pictures of realty and mixed them with fantasy, fear and anger. There is an obvious theme that Guido is concerned about his age and usefulness to the film community - and his usefulness to his wife. Guido is also a man who is incapable of separating the truth from the truths that he has created in his head.
The best way to describe 8 1/2 would be to call it a whirlwind of mental and emotional exhaustion. It demands the attention of the audience more than almost any film that I have seen. There is so much happening in every moment that the audience starts to feel the pressure that is driving a good director insane. Guido wants to tell a simple story that can touch people and influence them in positive ways. Finding that story would be hard for anyone. His working conditions do not help his already present disadvantages.
It is obvious that Guido is meant to represent Fellini in several different ways. The pressure that he felt as a director was strong enough to evoke the beginning dream sequence of Guido being yanked down from heaven by his co-workers and producers. The name of the film, 8 1/2, comes from Fellini's idea of how many actual films he had made to that point in his career. The audience can sense the breathlessness of the main character and is immediately stricken with a desire to help.
8 1/2 also features some of the most interesting and talked about camera work in all of Italian film. Some of Fellini's trademarks include not showing the actors feat as they walk on screen. This gives them a dream-like floating appearance. He also will start the camera with a still frame and allow his actors to enter the shot from the bottom of the screen. This allows the audience to be able to focus on everything that is happening all at once. I have read that this is one of the most shown films in classes and discussion groups all over the world, and it is easy to see why. Everything is meticulously planned and crafted to perfection. There is never a character or set piece out of place.
I have seen more perfect movies than 8 1/2, but I have never seen a film that better embodies the spirit of the man behind the production. 8 1/2 is Fellini's movie - it is hard to question that fact. He leaves an undeniable maker's mark here that builds up more than it subtracts from its audience. This is not his best film, but it may be Fellini's only personal masterpiece. That has to stand for something.
8 1/2: A-