Guido is a film director, trying to relax after his last big hit. He can't get a moments peace, however, with the people who have worked with him in the past constantly looking for more work. He wrestles with his conscience, but is unable to come up with a new idea. While thinking, he starts to recall major happenings in his life, and all the women he has loved and left. An autobiographical film of Fellini, about the trials and tribulations of film making.
WINNER of 2 OSCARS: Best Costume Design, Best Foreign Film
NOMINATED for 3 OSCARS: Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction
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Fellini's 8 1/2 (the title refers to how many films Fellini himself has made) of 1963 is a tour de force. Everything about the film is big, complex, existential, and also incredibly personal. It's probably the first instance in which we have a film within a film-- a director reflecting on his own medium. There could be a debate on whether it's a completely narcissistic project or a film that has political and social commentary as well.
As in La Dolce Vita, there is an unusual narrative structure; there's not a traditional plot line or story. Marcello Mastrioni is once again the central character-- this time a filmmaker named Guido who is going through a sort of mid-life crisis. He is struggling to start production on a semi-autobiographical film, pressured by producers and writers as he tries to create a truly personal and experimental piece of work. 8 ｽ switches between Guido's fantasies and/or memories, and the ever-present reality. The film displays the plight of the artist, but also makes fun of the process of creating art by presenting it as somewhat futile.
Guido is a successful yet unsatisfied director, who is unable to be faithful to his wife (played by the ever lovely Anouk Aimee) and unable to give any of his film crew direct answers about the project that they're all trying to make a reality. He is residing in a retreat in the country, full of bathhouses and mineral springs, to improve his failing health. The production design of this film is such that Guido is always dwarfed by his surroundings, illustrating his alienation in the luxurious and imposing world he is a part of. His fantasies are spread throughout the film, sometimes spurred by the real action, sometimes coming from nowhere. The fantasies are always clearly separate from the reality, however, so it's never too confusing or blurred, however ridiculous they may be. Guido also discusses figures and characters we've seen in his fantasies with his production team, so his visions are constantly reflected in the film being made. These visions or daydreams include being trapped in a car and almost suffocating and then flying into the sky, visiting his deceased father and mother in a graveyard, and remembering his childhood when he took baths in a vat of wine and was chased and scolded by catholic priests for dancing with the lustrous and shameful Saraghina.
With the fantasy scenes, Fellini creates a world full of symbolism and nostalgia, a world that a man in mid-life crisis escapes to in order to deal with his every day reality. The pinnacle scene that explores Guido's past and present in a truly psychoanalitical manner is the harem scene in which Guido is the master of a harem with every woman he has ever desired-- the ultimate male fantasy. This fantasy is by no means simple, however; he is the child of the house as well as the master, and at one point, the women turn against him in his own fantasy. The women in his life all symbolize something different that he desires, but Fellini makes it clear that it's impossible to have everything one desires.
The film (and the film within the film) also explores Catholicism in a modern world. Guido's childhood memories show the upbringing of an Italian boy in which sexuality and pleasure are at odds with religion, never explained or dealt with. Naturally, a boy grows up to be an unfaithful husband who explores sexuality and women through his art. However, Guido meets with priests and even a cardinal once to discuss his film, and again in a fantasy, and is obviously reverent to them, respectful and pious to his religion. Fellini once again explores the complexity of religion for modern Italian people: their reverence and faith versus their desire.
Although Guido's film is in a downward spiral, Fellini's film triumphs in illustrating the interior of one man's mind (his own?) while reflecting on the art of film and the post-modern world. The film is revolutionary in it's exploration of fantasy and reality with the use of music and sound, cinematography and design. The narrative structure was completely new for the average film-goer, European or American, and with it Fellini continued to influence Hollywood and Art Cinema. Although the film is not quite as unique today in structure and idea (with films like Synechodoche, NY being made) it still makes an impact in illustrating a personal experience, in reality and memory, while reflecting on the art form of cinema.