Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Makes the film a chain of gratuitous episodes which may even be amusing in their ambivalent realism

No 51 - 8 1/2

Director - Federico Fellini

It is a terrible thing to say, but as I watched 8 1/2 for the first time, I realised I had seen this premise before. And not in the musical 9. It was in an episode (a double episode to be more precise) of Frasier - Don Juan in Hell. Whilst it is named after the George Bernard Shaw scene, it has more than a passing resemblance to 8 1/2. As Frasier has a bit of a breakdown and faces a tough decision he is visited (and overwhelmed) by visions of important women from his past.

However, besides the visits from the women, I knew very little of what to expect - and so I began my journey into the mind of Federico Fellini.

The film is very hard to pin down and is difficult to explain. We are essentially following a film director named Guido (Marcello Mastroianni) as he tries to put together his new film whilst at the same time having a bit of a breakdown (well, that's how I see it). In order to illustrate this point the film flits between real moments and dream moments - like a hip 60's Inception, only the dreams have that actual fluid dreamlike state which is missing in Chris Nolan's (excellent) film.

Let's begin at the beginning. A car is stuck in traffic, and the man in the car is suffering; breathing heavily, struggling to get out of his locked car. Meanwhile, EVERYONE in the traffic is just staring at him. It is a very ominous start and is made all the more unnerving by the fact that it is essentially happening in silence. I forget just how atmospheric silence can be - and here we have only very quiet muffled drums to convey the dread of the situation. It all actually feels very Lynchian.

...Until he flies away to freedom.

The film proper then begins. What we have are a series of events in which Guido remembers moments from his past. Guido is very much a ladies man - you can see him flirting with everybody in the real world, and his obsession with ladies is showcased further with his trips into nostalgia, whether it be his mother, or the women who cared for him as a child, or his former lovers or childhood obsessions... whilst in Guido's childhood flashbacks - he got to BATHE IN WINE! If this is a true aspect of Fellini's youth, I am very jealous.

Gradually his mother and carers, former lovers, his wife and obsessions and even concurrent women he fancies (and may or may not have slept with) creep into his real world. They are there as parts of his subconscious, speaking to him and critiquing him and adding to the pressure that is already there as everyone seems to constantly want his attention (I must say, I could never be a film director).

He seems to have some control, and is trying to but these hallucinatory women into an order. See how he cruelly places the older women upstairs and the keeps the younger women around him. Or see the cruel way that in Guido's imagination, his wife is the traditional doting Italian wife, subservient and understanding - rather than the modern and opinionated (and rightfully angry) woman seeking a divorce, which she is in real life.

There are other aspects of this film. Guido is falling for Claudia, his actress - and this age gap echoes his friend's new relationship (he had left his wife for one of his daughter's friends) - and is also quite a cliché example of mid-life crisis.

The stress builds up to a point where Guido shoots himself (fairly sure this isn't real) and cancels the film. He has to pack everything away and escape. And it is here that we get a rather incredible speech from the film's writer. Which both excuses the actions of Guido and also sums up the mood of the film.

It is massively long, but throughout this speech Guido arranges and directs his memories into a dance and seems to look the least stressed he has looked all film.

It is chic and sexy (people in the 60's just looked fabulous and were effortlessly cool) - it is atmospheric and complicated. And I have no idea what is going on in it at all. I just don't get it.

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