The state you are likely to find yourself in having seen Federico Fellini’s 8½ on the big screen could quite aptly be described as one of shellshock. It’s a film that, over a 2 hour and 20 minute run time, batters your senses and bombards your brain to the edge of its mental capacity. A dazing and delirious tour de force of filmmaking that leaves you wandering the streets outside the auditorium in a trance, trying to somehow comprehend the challenging collage of cinematic creativity you have just witnessed.
It is now over 50 years since Fellini first unleashed his magnum opus upon the world, and it rightly remains a film that’s ripe for dissection. At its heart is the story of Guido (Marcello Mastroianni), a film director struggling with his own creative stasis. And in turn, the film acts as an astute meditation on the burgeoning pressures placed on filmmakers. But, this being Fellini, there’s so much more depth to be found below the surface.
As we delve deeper into Guido’s vulnerable psyche, we see a man searching for help not only in his professional life, but also in his personal one. Supported by Marcello Mastroianni’s versatile performance, Fellini is able to ruminate on the reality of trying to find your own individual happiness when faced with such a fractured and full-on lifestyle.
Playing out as a series of psychedelic sequences that blends Guido’s reverie with his own reality, 8½ is a haunting and hallucinogenic dream from which you don’t want to wake. Granted, Fellini’s fragmented structure is irritating, even infuriating at times, but it’s also infectious. The fusion of fantasies playing out against backdrops of baroque locations is bewitching to behold. The director’s imagery is eerie and emotive at times and wondrous and weightless at others. It’s always striking, stirring something within you that cannot be described.
What truly hypnotises you however, is the earthy emotions the director draws from his characters and their situations. Guido is clearly a filmic incarnation of Fellini himself, and this element of humanity allows us to develop compassionate levels of profundity towards Guido’s artistic crisis. His increasingly fractious relationship with his wife Luisa (Anouk Aimee) meanwhile, instils the film with a powerfully poignant edge that’s raw and relatable.
It isn’t hard to see why directors from every spectrum of the cinematic landscape have claimed to be inspired by this astounding piece of work. The bravery and brilliance of what is almost certainly Fellini’s finest film can be seen coursing through the very veins of the medium. Whether or not you’re a fan of his films is irrelevant, if you’re a fan of film in any capacity there should be no excuse for not seeking out 8½ on the big screen. It is, quite simply, filmmaking at its most fantastic.
8½ is playing at the BFI Southbank, as part of a wider re-release, between now & the 28th of May. For more details, or to find your nearest screening, click here.