1963 / Best Director

Film #578: 8 1/2 (1963)

So we’ve come to the final film of our Fellini foursome and seems quite apt to end on the film that encapsulates all of Fellini’s trademarks so well in the form of 8 1/2. As with the previous entries, 8 1/2 is split up into several different fragments, contains plenty of references to both sex and religion, includes a score by Nino Rota and stars Marcello Mastroianni in the lead role. However, I found that of all of his best director-nominated films, 8 1/2 is the most stringently structured of the bunch which is odd seeing as this a movie that has a number of fantasy sequences and ends in a rather bizarre manner.

In the film Mastroianni plays Guido Anselmi; a renowned film director who is experiencing both professional and personal issues whilst on the set of his latest project. Guido’s film is presented as a sci-fi movie complete with a huge model spaceship which has been set up on the beach by his production team. However as 8 1/2 progresses we learn that he has included plenty of elements about his own life within the body of the movie with a lot of his memories ending up on the screen. Meanwhile Guido has to deal with the problem of his highly-strung mistress Carla, who hassles from a different hotel from the one that he and the rest of his crew are staying in. Events get even more complicated when Guido’s estranged wife Luisa arrives alongside her friends and quickly runs into Carla which makes her re-evaluate her relationship with the director. The final third of the film is where things take a turn for the weird as we see actors being screen tested for roles in Guido’s movie which are based on characters he met during the course of 8 1/2. The film ends with a rather gruelling and intense press conference, which wouldn’t have looked out of place in La Dolce Vita, and a scene in which all of the characters traipse past Guido on the beach which ends the film on a rather reflective note.

However, I feel that the film itself is two hours and twenty minutes’ worth of reflection as the premise of 8 1/2 seems to be a way of Fellini revealing the stresses that a director has to endure. Although I’m sure some Fellini didn’t share the same sort of personal baggage as Guido there were certain moments in 8 1/2 that I believe were drawn from experience. Whether it being agents hassling him over their clients not getting big enough roles in his movies or the constant pestering from his producers and crew, a number of Guido’s problems seemed to reflect the issues that I’m convinced Fellini had to deal with in the past. The title itself is also a reference to Fellini as, including short movies and collaborations, this film would indeed be number 8 1/2 in his collection. As I mentioned in the introduction, there were several identifying features that marked this out as a Fellini film however the use of dream sequences and flashbacks didn’t irk me as they had in the past. I thought that all of Guido’s fantasies, especially one in which he was master over all of his former lovers, worked in the context of both the film and the character. Meanwhile the flashbacks to his harsh schooling and his experiences with a prostitute on the beach added depth to the character, explaining why his relationships with women were doomed to fail. As ever, 8 1/2 was beautifully filmed with each camera angle being painstakingly precise and each shot adding something to the narrative. Furthermore I admired 8 1/2’s use of sound and specifically silences as well as the use of popular music such as ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ which was utilised splendidly in the aforementioned fantasy sequence.

Once again Mastroianni was fantastic in the leading role; less charming and more dour than his turn in La Dolce Vita but just as captivating he made us understand Guido as both a director and a man. Anouk Aimee, who played the heiress in La Dolce Vita, was equally fabulous here as the mistreated Luisa and the scene in which she finally stood up to Guido was particularly fantastic. 8 1/2 was arguably Fellini’s best showing at the Oscars as it won both the Foreign Language Feature award and a deserved prize for best costumes for what was a very stylish affair. Additionally there were nominations in the screenplay and art direction categories but oddly no nomination for Gianni Di Venanzo’s outstanding cinematography. As there are more best director films from 1963 to evaluate I’ll leave the question of whether or not 8 1/2 deserved a best picture nod for now although it just depends on the calibre of the upcoming nominees. However, I will mention that for the most part I’ve enjoyed this traipse through the back catalogue of Fellini especially the last two entries. Whilst his films have not always been to my taste they’ve each offered something unique and I think his directorial flair was the reason why he was nominated for the Best Director prize on four separate occasions although sadly he never won.

Bizarrely the next stop on our world cinema trip sees us visit another film set around the world of film-making although this time it features on the entire ensemble rather than just one primary protagonist.

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