1963, Federico Fellini became a bit player in the Cold War when the Moscow
International Film Festival’s non-Soviet judges threatened to walk out unless
their decision to award the grand prize to 8½
was honored. It would be one of many
accolades bestowed (grudgingly in that case) on Fellini’s masterpiece. Frankly, finding fresh new insights into the Oscar
winner is rather daunting, but the fiftieth anniversary is a fitting occasion to
take a shot at it. To mark the
milestone, Corinth Films will rerelease 8½
Friday in New York.
8½ and La Dolce Vita may somewhat blend together
for many cineastes, because they probably first saw both films, which share similar
themes and cast members, in short succession.
Dolce has the fountain and 8½ has the weird space age scaffolding. Considered by Fellini his 8½th film (with
shorts and collaborations counting as halves), it is a film that rewards
revisiting at various stages of life. At
first viewing, some will be struck by its Fellini-esqueness. However, those initiated into the auteur’s style
will subsequently find it has a strong narrative structure and deep emotional feeling.
everyone ought to know, Guido Anselmi is an acclaimed director “taking the cure”
at an upscale sanatorium. Presumably he
is being treated for nerves and exhaustion, but he is really addicted to people
and drama. He is woefully behind
schedule and over budget on his next film.
Intended as a profoundly personal statement, it has evolved into a
science fiction epic, with that costly behemoth of a set still under
would like to save his career and his marriage to Luisa, but he seems incapable
of either. Instead, he spends
unrewarding time with his married mistress and is visited in his dreams and
reveries by women from his past, including his mother and La Saraghina, the
town harlot who fascinated him as a child.
the Soviets, the Vatican willingly joined the chorus of plaudits, putting 8½ on its list of the 45 greatest films
produced before 1995, even though it is not particularly kind in its depiction
of Catholic clergy. By the same token, Fellini’s
film never celebrates infidelity or materialism. Anouk Aimee’s Luisa more sophisticated and
beautiful (in an earthy way) than his tarty mistress, but Anselmi cannot give
her the emotional commitment she rightly demands.
is truly a wonder in 8½. Likewise, Claudia Cardinale brings down the
roof with her late appearance as Claudia, the glamorous movie star with whom
Anselmi has some ambiguous history.
Although relatively unheralded amongst a cast of giants, Rosella Falk
brings a smart, intriguing edge to film as Rosella, the Anselmis’ family friend
and counselor. However, it is Marcello
Mastroianni who anchors and defines the film.
In a way, it is easy to overlook his performance as he is passively
pushed and pulled from one episode to another.
Yet, in quiet scenes, such as his pseudo-confession to Claudia and his
confused late night attempt preserve his marriage, Mastroianni’s work is powerfully
direct and honest.
8½ is one of a handful of films everyone has to
see to consider themselves cinematically literate, but you cannot just see it
once. With the passage of time, Anselmi’s
crisis of confidence will resonate differently.
If you have only seen the musical Nine
or the various pastiches, you have not experienced the real thing. It really is that good. Recommended unreservedly to anyone who takes
film seriously, 8½ opens this Friday
(3/22) at the Quad Cinema.
Labels: Anouk Aimee, Federico Fellini, Italian Cinema, Marcello Mastroianni