8 1/2 – Directed by Federico Fellini

Eight and a Half is a drama by Italian director Federico Fellini originally released in 1963 and re-released in cinemas in May 2015. When first released, the film received mixed reviews, but it is now highly regarded. The film won two Oscars and had three further nominations, including Best Director.

Writing for the Guardian in 1999, film critic Derek Malcolm explained that when the film was first released ‘the film seemed incomprehensible to many who had hitherto loved his work. In one Italian town, the audience attacked the projectionists’. However, Malcolm now describes the film as Fellini’s ‘real masterpiece’.

The title of the film refers to the fact that Fellini had already made seven feature films and a couple of smaller films, which ran for about half the length of a feature film, so this would be his eight and a half film. It is the story of an established film director (and therefore perhaps partly autobiographical) who is struggling with a midlife crisis in his personal life and is committed to directing a new film, but has run out of ideas. An extravagant set has already been built and cast members and crew have been employed, and the director, Guido Anselmi, is constantly being asked questions by everyone about his vision for the film and their part in it. He feels trapped and is forever fending off questions, and as a result escapes into his own fantasy world of dreams and fantasies; the first scene illustrates this feeling when Guido is caught in a traffic jam and feels claustrophobic in his car. The beginning of the scene, with Guido looking calmly round at the other car drivers and passengers, who seem to be emotionless and detached from their surroundings, contrasts sharply with the desperate actions of the panicked Guido as he tries to escape from his steamed up car into his fantasy world. A dreamy calm then returns as he seems to float out of the car and fly over a beach, trying to avoid being brought back down to earth/reality by a rope pulled by some of the people constantly pushing him for answers. He is brought back to reality and finds himself in a health spa, being encouraged to take the spring waters and rest.
BRANDON, 2012. 8 1/2 (1963, Federico Fellini). In: Brandon’s Movie Memory. 13 December 2012 [21 October 2015]. Available from: http://deeperintomovies.net/journal/archives/8263

The film continues to float between fantasy and reality as Guido struggles with the pressures of making the film and keeping both a wife and a mistress happy. He seems to struggle with guilt as he looks back to his catholic upbringing and childhood when he was humiliated by his school priests after he and his friends paid a female prostitute, Saraghina, to dance on the beach, and in the film Guido says ‘Happiness consists of being able to tell the truth without hurting anyone’ and ‘I wanted to make an honest film. No lies whatsoever.’ However, as well as thoughts of his past, he is also cheating on his wife, who is well aware of the situation, and after being accused of lying by his wife he again falls into fantasy, imagining firstly that his wife and mistress get on well together and then that he is running a harem of adoring women, who he can get rid of when they are getting older and are no longer attractive to him.
Saraghina, female prostitute on beach
BRANDON, 2012. 8 1/2 (1963, Federico Fellini). In: Brandon’s Movie Memory. 13 December 2012 [21 October 2015]. Available from: http://deeperintomovies.net/journal/archives/8263

I found the film interesting, but at times difficult to follow. Like most Italian films made at the time, Fellini did not record the soundtrack on set, dubbing it in later, which may account for the fact that a lot of the dialogue does not seem to be synchronised with the speakers, and following the English subtitles at the same time as following the film made it difficult for me to feel totally connected with parts of the film, not being able to pick up the emotions and feelings of the speakers.

The lighting is generally quite harsh, with harsh shadows, but some scenes are particularly bright and over exposed, such as looking out of the tunnel into the brightness in the first scene, representing his fantasy world. There is also very over exposed lighting when he is imagining being with his mother and father at his father’s resting place to make it more dream-like and as though Guido is being pulled towards the light that people claim to see when on the edge of death.

There are a lot of close up shots of people’s faces, possibly representing that Guido feels he constantly has people in his face asking questions or bashing his ideas. Fellini uses various camera techniques and angles, such as following a character from behind, as if the camera is seeing what they are seeing, and then the character turning round to look at the camera, and also the camera interacting with other characters as they are passed by. In the first scene at the spa a number of people look directly into the camera as the camera/Guido passes them by, making it look as if the camera is showing Guido’s eye line and the characters are looking at him. This makes the audience feel like they are actually in the scene with the characters and therefore feel a stronger connection to them. Another example of when the camera looks as if it is looking at what Guido sees is when Guido talks to a priest as they walk through the spa. It makes the audience feel as though they are the ones talking to the priest and therefore empathising with Guido’s thoughts and opinions.

Much of the soundtrack is quite stark, with little reliance on mood music, which I felt could represent his joyless life, with his private and work life in crisis. There are a number of occasions when a band or orchestra seems to be playing, particularly in crowd scenes, such as the first scene at the spa when the visitors are lining up to receive their spa water and almost seem choreographed in a procession as they move along. This may represent that he is not left alone with his own thoughts, but reflecting his thoughts that everyone else’s lives are full of happiness and contentment, whereas he is in crisis. The end scene also has uplifting music as Guido directs everyone into their positions, as if a circus ringmaster, to give a more cheerful and positive atmosphere.

Most of the film moves along at a similar steady pace, but reaches a crescendo at a couple of points, such as the final scene, when the press are desperately trying to ask Guido questions and he looks for an escape before the circus parade. The tension and stress of the situation is shown through the fact that everyone starts talking louder and over each other, constantly firing questions at him. He feels trapped and panicked as they leave their seats and crowd round him. Some of the dream sequences are quite peaceful, such as when Guido floats from his car at the start of the film, because there is little sound, only the eerie noise of the wind and he moves very slowly, almost as if it was in slow motion, making it look very dream-like. The lighting is very bright, with the sun light shining in the camera’s lens, giving a very spaced out and out of this world atmosphere.

The film won an Oscar for Best Costume Design, Black-and-White, and certainly has some beautiful outfits, including Guido’s mistress’ outfit, with the extravagant fur and detailed netting, as she claimed to have seen in Vogue. Many of the backgrounds used are quite plain, such as in Guido’s memories of his catholic school, where the scene is viewed from a child’s viewpoint in that the priest’s desk is particularly large and the pictures of saints and other worthy religious people on the walls are oversized, and his childhood home. This may be because of the lack of detail of the child’s memories or to show the simple life of a child in contrast to the cluttered and stressful life of an adult. However their hotel and the set built for the proposed film were much more luxurious and expensive looking, perhaps accentuating the vast amount of money already spent on his non-existent film.
Wife Luisa on left, with mistress Carla, on right
BRANDON, 2012. 8 1/2 (1963, Federico Fellini). In: Brandon’s Movie Memory. 13 December 2012 [21 October 2015]. Available from: http://deeperintomovies.net/journal/archives/8263

The difference between reality and fantasy throughout the film is not clearly marked by different camerawork or music, but the audience becomes aware that it is a dream sequence by the action involved or if there is a sudden change in emotion or setting. However on occasions it is difficult to know if Guido is in a dream or reality, such as when a large crowd of clients are going down in the heavy steam to the hot rooms at the spa; the white clothing and rising steam make it difficult to know whether or not this scene is real, especially when Guido is suddenly called out for a special meeting with the Cardinal, perhaps just another fantasy? Similarly at the end of the film Guido appears to decide the only way out is to kill himself and shoots himself under the table when escaping from the press and all their questions; but he then appears still to be alive and to have decided to stop film production and is directing the destruction of his spaceship, before finally realising happiness is best achieved by being honest and truthful with people.

Overall I thought this film was unlike any I have seen before, with the blurring of the line between fantasy and reality, and it is actually the first black and white film I have watched. I am used to colours being used to add emotion and character to a film, with certain colours triggering certain emotions, for example if a girl was wearing a white dress then it could represent her virginity and purity, whereas if she was wearing a red dress then it could represent a more sexualised and daring woman. In this film I felt the director had to rely more on the lighting because of the lack of colour, for example using dark and harsh lighting set up to represent a more dramatic scene as opposed to a more overexposed light which would give a more dream-like feel, such as when Guido first floated up into the sky, away from reality. I found the style intriguing and think it is the type of film which I need to watch more than once to really understand and appreciate the details of the film, especially as watching it again I would be concentrating less on the subtitles.

8 1/2
, 1963. Directed by Federico Fellini. Cineriz; Francinex

MALCOMB, D., 1999. Federico Fellini: 8 1/2. In: TheGuardian. 22 April 1999 [21 October 2015]. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/film/1999/apr/22/derekmalcolmscenturyoffilm.derekmalcolm

IMDB, 2015. 8 1/2 – Awards [21 October 2015]. Available from: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0056801/awards?ref_=tt_awd

EBERT, R., 2000. 8 1/2. In: RogerEbert.com. 28 May 2000 [21 October 2015]. Available from: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-8-12–eight-and-a-half-1963

BRANDON, 2012. 8 1/2 (1963, Federico Fellini). In: Brandon’s Movie Memory. 13 December 2012 [21 October 2015]. Available from: http://deeperintomovies.net/journal/archives/8263


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