Sunday, 2 May 2010

8 and 1/2 (1963)

Synopsis: Italian film director Guido (meant to be Fellini) gets writer's block, thinks about how complicated his love life is, remembers some stuff from his childhood. His wife (Anouk Aimee) and conscience (Claudia Cardinale) turn up and all turns out well. A much more fun take on writer's block than, say, The Shining.

I'd read lots about this film and its theme of times remembered and our relationship with our childhood memories. The film starts off with Guido in a near silent traffic jam in a tunnel (a symbol of his birth?). Suffocating in his car, and surrounded on all sides by other cars, he eventually escapes through the sunroof and floats off into the sky. As we look about at the other cars there are several freeze frames on other motorists faces as they gaze upon Guido in his car.

Move on a couple of scenes and he's staying in a fancy resort hotel, getting 'cured' for writer's block and attempting to get a film started surrounded by producers, writers and his mistress.

We follow him to a formal park, full of old ladies (BIG theme), a band (cf. I Vitelloni) and many of his friends. There are several similar scenes in which he's in this or similar park. There's a lovely energy to these sequences, full of life in all its mixed up glory.

At one point, during a meal in the park, a telepathic old lady attempts to read his mind and gets a message from his childhood. We are then taken back with his memories, which are now heavily intruding on his present. His memory is of grape pressing as a young boy, Bacchus always a strong impetus in his indulgent life. The women involved, including his mother and sisters are fighting over him, which becomes a recurrent theme. This culminates in a virtuoso sequence in which he is confronted by all the women in his life, including an aging dancer whom he has cruelly relegated to 'upstairs' due to her advancing years.

Eventually, Claudia Cardinale (beautiful, divine Claudia) appears playing an actress but more of a muse/conscience to Guido, to help him get his (ahem, creative) juices flowing again.

As part of his remembering his childhood in relation to the script he is writing, we are taken back to a joyous scene on the beach. Young Guido and his mates pay a local enormous bosomed dancer (prostitute?) to dance the rumba for them. As she dances with Guido, priests emerge and chase and catch him (this is great as the film speeds up for a bit of slapstick at this point, it's very funny). This beach dance scene reminded a little of another film with themes of strong childhood memories influencing a man's adult relationships with women, Le Mari de la Coiffeuse (The Hairdresser's Husband). It's almost as if Guido can never approach women as an adult man, but will always be the little boy, fascinated and tempted by every woman he meets.

The scenes with his exasperated wife are kind of sad. She knows all about his infidelities but chooses to stay with him. His odd view of her is that she's all wise and knowing and can put up with him. However, that we see her puffing fags and quaffing Valium tells a different story.

We then move into the Catholic guilt and penance for his temptation, with confession booths looking like winged angels of death. There's a religious repetition of smoke/steam from the start of film - this original sin is what he emerged from at birth...

The climax is at the building of an enormous spaceship (part of the planned set of the yet to start film), we also get a repeat of the start with a huge queue of cars travelling towards the set, bringing everyone (including the lots and lots of old ladies) to judge him. He then realises that he doesn't need to worry about creative criticism and should just be as honest as he can with his film making.

The film then draws to a close with all the characters dancing a sort of conga around the set on the beach. 3...2...1...lift off!!

8 and a 1/2 is full on self-indulgent existential and egotistical masturbation, but when it's this fabulous, you can't help but get swept along. Absolutely joyous.

See also: The Shining, Hairdresser's Husband, Nine

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