• Angus McGregor

First Time Watch: 8½

Whilst researching my post for 10 films to check out on streaming services in June, a particular film from MUBI caught my eye. Not only an Oscar winner from many years gone by but one that is described as on the medium's greatest ever of all time. Coming from legendary filmmaker Federico Fellini, this is exactly the kind of film I need to catch up on, as a massive filmography seems to have dodged me for many years. Hailed as a film that broke new ground and with a massive reputation with achievements such as Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars, ranking 3rd in the British Film Institute's Top 50 Greatest Films list and being in the Vatican's Top 45 Films list celebrating 100 years of cinema, it's safe to say this film had a lot to live up to.

Plot Synopsis: Troubled Italian filmmaker Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) struggles with creative stasis as he attempts to get a new movie off the ground. Overwhelmed by his work and personal life, the director retreats into his thoughts, which often focus on his loves, both past and present, and frequently wander into fantastical territory. As he tries to sort out his many entanglements, romantic and otherwise, Anselmi finds his production becoming more and more autobiographical.

If I had to describe my experience with this film in a couple of words, I'd honestly have to say it was stressful and frustrating. There's a lot to unpack within this film as it experiments with non-linear structures and fluxations between reality and imaginative sequences whilst taking an analysed look at the filmmaking experience. The filmmaking experience focuses on a stalling filmmaker who is being harassed in every single way regarding his latest project. There are many scenes when the main character Guido is truly bombarded from all directions, from studio heads, colleagues, budding actresses, reporters and many more and to each of their queries, there's no answer but a scurrying escape. Similarly to 'Uncut Gems' from this year, there's a lot of emphasis on this tough setting with barrages of dialogue but here, there's much less resolution. This is truly mind-numbing but wholly intentional in what is something that brought revelations whilst also being quite frustrating. These sequences are so claustrophobic as Guido is surrounded with an overwhelming amount of pressure, questioning every little detail that he doesn't have the answer to which in all honesty wears at you. It is safe to say that this really isn't that enjoyable but at the same time, the film directly transfers you right into the shoes of the main character, with you feeling the repercussions of this intense scrutiny. It's unnerving but undoubtedly effective.

As we deal with a mental block, we are subject to sequences where the director's imagination runs free and usually in the direction of the woman in his life, past and present. At times, these moments can be quite confusing, mixing these characters through different scenarios and timelines with little time to get used to what is going on. There are some key visual and sound cues to help go along with this as these scenes add up to Guido's psyche and his search for acceptance from beautiful dames despite his constant negligence. Guido is a clear representation of fragile masculinity, from treating women solely as objects to refusing to voice any issues going on within his life or his production. The films main arc takes place relating to both as after over 2 hours of the film production achieving nothing, he simply pulls the trigger saying he cannot do it anymore. Again, this was frustrating for me as watching this film for its resolution to just be to pack up and go isn't necessarily the most satisfying. Once again, though, it does make perfect sense and is completely understandable.

What does satisfy, though, is the masterful cinematography from Gianni Di Venanzo. There is such fluidity as to how the camera glides through many scenes, through crowds or even just opening up a location furthermore. As previously mentioned, the camerawork helps nail the claustrophobia depicted as well as differentiating the reality from in-film fiction. Combining with excellent lighting, the camerawork is truly flawless in this film and is one of many aspects that have had an everlasting impact on the industry as a whole.

'8½' is undoubtedly a very well crafted film and has a lot of ideas going on within it with an interesting execution. To many, clearly, this is an absolute masterpiece, otherwise, it wouldn't continue to be raved about and held to such high regard by many great minds. Sadly, although enjoying certain aspects, I can't say it quite reached that level for me. When a film is so massively praised, it's easy for it to disappoint with massive expectations being set for it and it just didn't reach that truly elite level for me. Despite this, there is a lot to admire and is undoubtedly a very interesting exercise where you can see the legacy it created on filmmaking as a whole. It's legacy as an Avant-garde film cannot be questioned, paving the way for new routes of storytelling and exploring themes that would later be found in the likes of 'Birdman' and 'Pulp Fiction'.

Final Rating: 3.5/5

I have no qualms in saying that this film isn't fully my cup of tea but cannot deny that it does work in many ways, although it doesn't quite suit my likings. Nonetheless, thanks again for checking out my review of another first time watch. I've had a good time lately turning back time and exploring areas of cinema I've neglected for so long. Once again, thank you for reading and make sure to come back for more reviews coming soon. Until then, continue to stay safe and I'll see you in the next one!

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