Monday, January 4, 2010

8½ (1963)

It's pretty hard to criticize a film that spends a solid portion of it's run-time criticizing itself, but, luckily, there really aren't too many negative things to say about 8½. Federico Fellini's exploration of the creative, film-making process is worthy of all of the acclaim that is lumped onto it. It is one of the best foreign films ever made and it, probably, is the best movie about making movies in existence. 8½ is one of the few films, that I have ever seen, that is entirely self-aware. This self-awareness doesn't distract you from the film or the characters though, it just another layer of complexity on top of a movie that is, already, a mile deep. In addition, the film is effective in a general sense; It's, both, wickedly funny and surprisingly heartfelt at times. All of this leads to a movie that can only be described, ironically, as complete.

8½ is the story of renowned film director Guido Anselmi. Guido, feeling the pressure of his latest film, attempts to relax at a spa as he works on his latest picture. Assaulted by both personal and professional troubles, Guido begins to soul-search, leading him to some wildly unexpected places. His efforts take him through his family life, his troubled school days and his convoluted love life in an attempt to reconcile his failing marriage and to come to terms with himself. Directed by acclaimed director, Frederico Fellini, the film picked up a handful of Oscar nominations and took home the award for Best Foreign Film in 1964.

Both Guido's film, in the movie, and the actual film, 8½, are autobiographical works of their directors. 8½ was meant to be, in some ways, Fellini's autobiography and it's a delight to see the connections between Guido and Fellini. Without launching into an obnoxious analysis of the film, it's enough to say that the connections between the film that you are watching and the film that Guido is trying to make are surprisingly accessible. You can dig as deep as you want, there is plenty of extra stuff buried deep down, but it doesn't take more than a casual viewing of the film to see and enjoy the humor that this creates. I did say humor. It's important to remember that 8½ is a comedy. Fellini is poking fun at himself, critics and the entire movie watching world here. It's delightful to watch and surprisingly insightful at the same time.

It is so rare that a film is both complex and deep, but so thoroughly enjoyable on a simple level. The humor in 8½, while sometimes on the quirky side, is highly effective and enjoyable. It's hard not to laugh at Guido's imaginary harem where the women are sent upstairs when the expire at the ripe old age of 27. It may be odd, but it's certainly funny. The film is also bolstered by fantastic performances from the films leading stars. There's just enough drama here to keep the film moving when it's surreal humor stalls out. Guido's ailing marriage and faltering career are very tangible problems and sources of drama amongst the imagination and fancy of the rest of the film.

With the recent failure of the screen adaptation of Nine, I think it's twice as important to see 8½. It's required viewing for cinema buffs and one that they shouldn't dread. It's a insightful, intriguing and ultimately a very satisfying film watching experience. Calling it an experience might be the only appropriate way to describe 8½. It's more than just a movie. It's like a living, breathing expression of cinema at it's finest.


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