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Review of Fellini's 81/2

In: Film and Music

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Produced by Angelo Rizzoli. Directed by Federico Fellini. Screenplay by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano, Brunello Rondi.

Viewers expecting to sit back, relax and switch off for a couple of hours - this film is not for you. A barrage of dream sequences interrupted by brief encounters with endless characters; this is a piece of shamelessly self indulgent psychoanalysis on Fellini's part. Of course, this is exactly what he intended. The main character is that of Guido (played by Fellini himself) a director unable to complete his latest film and loosely based on the identity of his own creator (Fellini). Fellini has been able to achieve the effect of mise en abyme not only through the dream sequences but also with this being an autobiographical piece. Viewers are intentionally lulled into the false belief that they are watching a film about Fellini, not the character Guido. Throughout, obvious references to the films chaos and irregularities are made by characters through their criticism of the unfinished, fictional film. When giving Guido notes on his film, one character calls it 'a chain of gratuitous episodes' which pretty much describes Fellini's 8½ to perfection. In another scene Guido is criticised for his obsession with depicting 'Italy's Catholic conscience' which is also a reoccurring motif of Fellini's. He plays this game with the viewer by highlighting the inadequacies of his own film through the criticism of the fictional one.

An endless array of different female characters appear throughout the film as viewers are forced to analyse the protagonists relationships with women starting from his childhood. It is a psychoanalysts dream as almost every stereotype of woman is depicted; from virgins and whores to doting mother figures – they all appear. Albeit confusing and chaotic, there are more than a few moments of cinematic genius, the most memorable being the culmination of all the female characters in the Harem dream sequence. Guido's many actresses, dancers, women from his childhood, his wife, his mistress all speak directly to the camera in a montage of absurd flattery of Fellini's character. It is Freudian overkill as we watch the misogynist being bathed, carried like a child and looked after by female characters that had previously represented sexuality. These kinds of female characters are juxtaposed by nuns and members of the clergy which appear throughout the film as a constant commentary on 'Italy's Catholic conscience'. Another unforgettable scene is that of Saraghina (Eddra Gale). In a childhood memory of Guido's, a huge, muscular woman, covered in make-up and clothed in rags dances for him and is his first representation of sexual desire – which is quickly followed by a punishment from his teachers who are all members of the clergy, his mother who doesn't want to see him, and a confession in church. Fellini is in constant analysis of Guido's relationships with women especially through this depiction of sex, punishment and the church, however, this scene of Saraghina dancing is quite delightful and gives us a little break from the dream sequences and episodes of self analysis.

Having criticised the initial chaotic nature of the film, it must be said that the lack of linearity and constant changing of scenes becomes rather effortless as Fellini's method behind his madness becomes clearer for the viewer. Recognisable central characters start to form and, however confusing the content of the dreams, they begin to flow with ease. Although the content is the main appeal of the film and what essentially gives it such individuality as a piece, the cinematography and novel camera work make it an aesthetic joy. Fellini's use of space is very modern and quite before it's time. With the large amount of actors and hubbub in most of the scenes the main event could very easily be lost or have it's attention stolen by something in the background; Fellini never allows this to happen.

What should be noted is a sense of interest in Guido develops with the viewer as he becomes likeable, despite the cruel and self-absorbed nature of his character. This could be put down to Fellini's impeccable acting within this role. In fact, all of the actors are superb, especially Sandra Milo who plays the mistress, Carla. There is another montage scene of actresses auditioning for her part in Guido's film, each one dressed as her being directed how to speak and act. This is just another of Fellini's mise en abyme moments where we can't help but imagine the audition process that Milo had to go through for her part. There are scenes like this one of 'reality' which actually carry the storyline, however, they are few and far between – distinguishing reality from fantasy is the main difficulty. It would be advisable to accept the structure (or lack there of) that Fellini has intentionally and masterfully created, as opposed to trying to make sense of it all.

8½'s labyrinth of psychoanalysis and fantasy sequences is never ending. Even brief episodes and characters that only appear once are the little details that make the film so memorable and interesting to watch. These are the things that keep you watching. Just to emphasise the Freudian theme we see a very brief scene with Guido's parents where he lowers his own father into a grave. Subtleties hint throughout at Fellini's own fears of ageing or no longer being able to create good work. It is an honest film with few inhibitions. Although Fellini has created a brilliantly clever, memorable and thought provoking film, I cant help but feel like a silent observer to his own personal therapy session.

Bibliography

Lodge, D. (1997) The Practice of Writing: Essays, lectures, reviews and a diary. London: Penguin

Electronic

Bradshaw, P. (2013) La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) – review. The Guardian. [online].
Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/sep/05/le-grande-bellezza-great-beauty-review [Accessed 1 January 2014]

Young, D. (2006) Review: 'The Caiman'. Variety. [online]. Available from: http://variety.com/2006/film/reviews/the-caiman-1200517516/ [Accessed 12 December 2013]

Fellini, F. (1963) 8½. [DVD] Nouveaux Pictures.…...

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