A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

8 1/2 (Federico Fellini, 1963)

At one point in 8 1/2 an actress playing a film critic turns to the camera and brays (in English), "He has nothing to say!", referring to Guido Anselmi, the director Marcello Mastroianni plays and, by extension, to Fellini himself. And that's quite true: Fellini has nothing to say because reducing 8 1/2 to a message would miss the film's point. Guido finds himself creatively blocked because he's trying to say something, except he doesn't know what it is. He has even enlisted a film critic, played by Jean Rogeul, to aid him in clarifying his ideas, but the critic only muddles things by his constant monologue about Guido's failure. Add to this the fact that after a breakdown Guido has retreated to a spa to try to relax and focus, only to be pursued there by a gaggle of producers and crew members and actors, not to mention his mistress (Sandra Milo) and his wife (Anouk Aimée). Guido's consciousness becomes a welter of dreams and memories and fantasies, overlapping with the quotidian demands of making a movie and tending to a failed marriage. He is also pursued by a vision of purity that he embodies in the actress Claudia Cardinale, but when they finally meet he realizes how impossible it is to integrate this vision with the mess of his life. Only at the end, when he abandons the project and confronts the fact that he really does have nothing to say, can he realize that the mess is the message, that his art has to be a way of establishing a pattern out of his own life, embodied by those who have populated it dancing in a circle to Nino Rota's music in the ruins of the colossal set of his abandoned movie. The first time I saw this film it was dubbed into German, which I could understand only if it was spoken slowly and patiently, which it wasn't. Even so, I had no trouble following the story (such as it is) because Fellini is primarily a visual artist. Besides, the movie starred Mastroianni, who would have made a great silent film star, communicating as he did with face and body as much as with voice. It is, I think, one of the great performances of a great career. 8 1/2 is also one of the most beautiful black-and-white movies ever made, thanks to the superb cinematography of Gianni Di Venanzo and the brilliant production design and costumes of Piero Gherardi.