One of the undisputed classics of modern international film, 8 1/2 (its title literally meaning that it was Federico Fellini’s eight-and-one-halfth film — seven full features and a couple short segments of omnibus films precede it) is the movie where the greatest of all Italian filmmakers moved completely away from traditional realism toward a more personal approach to cinema. His goal was to reach a greater reality by eschewing reality in the conventional sense. The degree to which that approach succeeds probably depends more on the viewer than the filmmaker.
At bottom, 8 1/2 is a fantasy about a filmmaker, Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni), spending time at a health spa while trying to sort out his personal, artistic and spiritual life. Intensely personal, 8 1/2 basically depicts Fellini making a movie about trying to decide what movie he wants to make! “I really have nothing to say,” Guido realizes, adding, “but I want to say it all the same.” That may sound confusing, but it’s really not — it’s merely self-revelatory in a way that few filmmakers (Jean Cocteau, Ingmar Bergman, and Ken Russell come to mind) have ever dared to be.
Rich in detail, humor and humanity, it’s a deeply layered work that raises as many questions as it answers. Endlessly fascinating, brilliant even in its occasional flaws, 8 1/2 rewards first-time viewers and seasoned veterans alike with its introspection, invention and sheer joy of filmmaking. No one who genuinely cares about the art of film can afford not to see it.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke