8½ (1963)

For many, Fellini's "8½" seems self-indulgent right from the first sequence which hastily throws the viewer around a dream, plummeting back into reality. The film, which is perfectly shot in crisp black-and-white, centers around a film director who's just trying to get a movie made.
This movies seems like a very personal film for the director, Guido (Marcello Mastroianni), but he cannot be met with anything except criticism.
He sends to script off to a critic who immediately tears it apart and deems it sentimental hogwash. Still, there's a team to think about—the producers are on board—Guido will push on.
As much as "8½"—which bounds back and forth from dreams to reality, the past to the present, fantasy to reality—is about the making of a movie, it is more about the mind of a man. It is about the struggles that Guido has balancing his work and his personal life, his girlfriends and his wife, his childhood and his current beliefs.
Fellini makes no hesitation to throw us into flash-backs, one right after the other. These are triggered by a phrase perhaps, or the sight of someone who reminds Guido of a character from his past. There is no generous rippling screen to show us that we are going into the past, nor any large sweeping noise that I can only deem the "Lost" noise. In this fashion, I find "8½" very true to the mind of an actual person. Sometimes we just space out and reminisce for a moment or two. Sometimes we try not to remember, but we do anyway.
You get the feeling that "8½" is just a movie about a personal experience that Fellini had, but I don't think that's what it is.
As the days tick by and Guido gets farther into the film making process, he begins to realize that this film doesn't have an ending. The voices of his critics are always in his head, the memories of his childhood are swelling up around him, the chaos of his relationships is beginning to overtake him—his life is kind of a mess.
As "La Dolce Vita" did, "8½" follows the life of a confused man, trying to find meaning—both movies had Mastroianni as the lead actor. The meaning always escapes him, though he tries several ways to understand his life. He seeks the counsel of a cardinal, reflecting his inner child's need for consolation. He tries to force its hand by having sex with many women (that much is heavily implied though only seen once). He tries to rationalize his life in his own mind.
It would be terribly easy to label "8½" as anti-woman. It places them like objects around the stage, just present to amuse Guido; but this view I think is inherently wrong.
Guido is a confused man, a hopeless man, a selfish man—Fellini makes us empathize with him without liking him. Women play such a vital role in the shaping of his character. He has casual flings with some of his actresses, his wife comes to pay a visit and is portrayed as the cold and unloving one—though she is not the one being unfaithful. The camera, via Guido, makes pauses on nearly every female form that comes across the screen. Why?
In Guido's mind, they are remind him of someone else. They could be old—maternal. They could be young—sexual. They could be middle-aged—professional. It doesn't matter who they are, Guido feels like he can categorize them.
In one memory, Guido revisits the time he and a group of boys went to solicit the attention of a whore named Saraghina. She dances the rhumba for them and Guido gets punished at the Catholic school he attends for the excursion. The adult Guido is trying to justify what was so evil about the trip. He puts Saraghina into his film as he does with his wife. He thinks himself clever enough to hide their identities behind script and make-up, but it is always bitterly obvious.
Perhaps the best way to show that the film isn't objectifying women is a fantasy sequence that Guido has. All the women in his life are gathered together, getting along. He admits to himself that it is a harem. None of the women are actually who they are. For instance, his wife plays a maid whose only wish is to make Guido's existence easier. They all want to be caressed, they all caress him. But things start to turn a little sour, so Guido has to pull out his whip and coral his women into place. Chauvinistic? Certainly, but only on Guido's part and not on Fellini's.
Whatever the gender commentary the film is making "8½" is a true masterpiece. Its brilliance is immediately seen, and it is now considered one of the greatest films ever made...understandable.

Score: ★★★★

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