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Criticwire Classic of the Week: Federico Fellini’s ‘8 1/2’

Criticwire Classic of the Week: Federico Fellini's '8 1/2'

Every now and then on the Criticwire Network an older film gets
singled out for attention. This is the 
Classic of the Week

“8 1/2”
Dir: Federico Fellini
Criticwire Average: A+

Federico Fellini’s shift from heavily neorealist-influenced dramas to the more idiosyncratic, carnivalesque films that defined his work began in 1960 with “La Dolce Vita,” still arguably his greatest and most influential film. That shift was cemented with his next film (and probably the only serious challenger to “La Dolce Vita’s” top spot), “8 1/2.” One of the best films ever made about filmmaking, it’s simultaneously critical of its director’s self-importance and childishness and celebratory of the possibilities of the medium.

Marcello Mastroianni stars in perhaps his definitive role as Guido Anselmi, an acclaimed Italian director who tries to rest at a spa while juggling his anxieties about his his marital and extramarital woes, his difficult and demanding relationships with his producer, writer and cast, his past, and his upcoming film. He shifts back and forth between reality, fantasies of idealized women, and his past misdeeds. On top of it all, he fears that his creativity is running thin and that his new film is little more than disconnected ideas.

Mastroianni is at once suave and weary as Guido, a man who feels the sad, exhausting truth of middle age while still suffering from an childish sense of entitlement and indecision. Yet “8 1/2” is not a weary film, but an endlessly inventive one, whether we’re in Guido’s mad fantasy of running his own harem or revisiting the painful childhood memory of being caught watching a prostitute dance; repeat viewings show how carefully Fellini has connected the fantasy of the former to the formative experience of the latter. And beyond Mastroianni and the excellent supporting cast (Anouk Aimee, Claudia Cardinale), Fellini gathers the perfect collaborators, from composer Nino Rota’s joyous score to cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo’s elegant, gliding camera. Rarely is a film about a man’s personal anxieties and vices this fun.

More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:

Joe Bendel, Libertas Film Magazine

Aimee is truly a wonder in “8 1/2.” 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. Read more.

Dustin Chang, Twitch Film

What can I say? The ending where everyone from your life- real or imagined, celebrate your life, gets to me every time I watch it. One of the best films of all time.

More thoughts from the web:

Roger Ebert, RogerEbert.com

All of the images (real, remembered, invented) come together into one of the most tightly structured films Fellini made. The screenplay is meticulous in its construction–and yet, because the story is about a confused director who has no idea what he wants to do next, “8 1/2” itself is often described as the flailings of a filmmaker without a plan. “What happens,” asks a Web-based critic, “when one of the world’s most respected directors runs out of ideas, and not just in a run-of-the-mill kind of way, but whole hog, so far that he actually makes a film about himself not being able to make a film?” But “8 1/2” is not a film about a director out of ideas–it is a film filled to bursting with inspiration. Guido is unable to make a film, but Fellini manifestly is not. Read more.

J. Hoberman, The Village Voice

However the ensuing decades have brought forth a deluge of bogus masterpieces, and Fellini’s, by comparison, holds up rather well. “8 1/2 may be lightweight, but its facility is inspired. The filmmaker was never smoother than he was here, guiding the audience through a series of superb set pieces: the opening traffic-jam nightmare, the harem fantasy, the cocktail party­press conference on the movie lot, the haunting and inimitable circus-ring ending. Fellini’s intercutting of reverie, dream, and reality is seamless and standard-setting. And as 8 1/2was made before his style inflated to DeMille dimensions, his pet tricks— killing all the sound except the howl of the wind, or dollying the camera through a throng of ciao-hissing gargoyles— had yet to harden into mannerist tics. Read more.

Jonathan Rosenbaum, The Chicago Reader

If what you know about this exuberant, self-regarding movie comes from its countless inferior imitations (from Mazursky’s Alex in Wonderland and The Pickle to Allen’s Stardust Memories to Fosse’s All That Jazz), you owe it to yourself to see Federico Fellini’s exhilarating, stocktaking original–an expressionist, circuslike comedy about the complex mental and social life of a big-time filmmaker (Marcello Mastroianni) stuck for a subject and the busy world surrounding him. It’s Fellini’s last black-and-white picture, and conceivably the most gorgeous and inventive thing he’s ever made–certainly more fun than anything he’s made since. Read more.

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