26 April 2004 | howard.schumann
Exhilarating and inspired
Fellini's 8 1/2 opens with a stunning dream sequence in which a man is trapped in his car in the middle of a traffic jam. The doors and windows are locked and there is no escape. Other drivers simply sit and stare at him passively. The driver starts to panic as smoke begins to build up within the car. Propelling himself outside a window, he floats over the other cars and soars above the world until he is pulled down a rope attached to a tether on his ankle. The driver is Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni), a film director at odds with himself. Shot in black and white, 8 1/2 is an exhilarating, confusing, irritating, and inspired journey into a man's consciousness. It is not just a look at the inner turmoil of one person, but also a commentary on each person's struggle to make sense of their life. The film's combination of kaleidoscopic images, evocative score by Nino Rota, and amazing performances ensure its place as one of the greatest films of the century.
Guido is preparing to shoot a new film with an expensive budget. He constructs a huge spaceship launch pad that costs $80 million but he is unsure of what he wants to say. Guido's dishonesty in dealing with his marriage, his career, and the fact that he really does not want to make the film forces him to falsely mislead people as to his true intentions. He feels like a failure and is physically spent. He checks into a spa to restore his health and well being but the contingent of producers, actors, writers, and hangers on undermine his strength. His feeling of being overwhelmed by personal and professional obligations provides the catalyst for dreams and fantasies that take him back to his childhood.
Fellini shows his encounter with the prostitute Saraghina (Eddra Gale) and the guilt he has to deal with in a confrontation with the Catholic Church. Guido invites his intellectual wife Luisa (Anouk Aimée) to the set but their relationship has turned cold and passionless, and sparks fly when she has to confront Carla (Sandra Milo), his buxom mistress. Guido is misguided but he has an innocence and charm that allows us to overlook his indulgences. He enjoys his pleasures but has a conscience and feels guilty about cheating on Luisa whom he loves and is afraid of losing. He fantasizes that all of the women in his life are together in a harem where they all dote on his every whim. When they finally recognize how little he cares about them, he is forced to suppress their revolt.
As image piles on image and the fantasy becomes indistinguishable from the reality, the viewer may get lost in a maze of dazzling incoherence. Fellini, however, always returns to solid ground and the film offers not only a satire on the frenzy, the uncertainty, and the clash of egos involved with making a film but also a serious commentary on the importance of honesty in a relationship. If 8 1/2 is occasionally exhausting, the ending is invigorating, letting us know that life is a game in which each of us is on the stage performing our roles and the only sane response to its turmoil is to join hands in love and celebrate the moment.