Film review: Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2

8 1/2 (Fellini, 1963). Picture: BFI

8 1/2 (Fellini, 1963). Picture: BFI - Credit: Archant

This 1963 classic retains its power as it tells the story of a man with writer’s block, says Michael Joyce.

Director: Federico Fellini. 1963 Starring: Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimee, Claudia Cardinale, Sandra Milo and Rosella Folk. In Black and white. Italian with subtitles. Film Length: 132 mins

Chronologically his eighth full feature isn’t exactly the midpoint of Fellini’s career, but it certainly seems like all the preceding works were building towards it and everything that followed flowed from it.

This film is still regarded as one of the great masterpieces – in the last Sight and Sound poll it held on to its spot in the all time top ten. It is definitely a landmark but over the following half century it has been part buried by parody and homage. Almost everybody has taken a little nick from it, while Fellini himself would obsessively re-work scenes and ideas from it in subsequent films.

The film centres on Guido (Mastroianni) a man suffering from director’s block. He has the script, the cast, the crew and the sets in expensive position, but he doesn’t know what to do with them. The situation supposedly mirrors that of Fellini at the time who had forgotten what his next film would be. Anybody can get writer’s block but you have to be very far up the career ladder to enjoy the indulgence of director’s block. Watching it now I was reminded of the episode of Seinfeld where Jerry and George go to NBC to pitch their idea for A Show About Nothing. This is a film about nothing and one that really stretches the point as it meanders through its 132 minutes. Still if you are to meander, Mastroianni is as good a man to meander with. Possibly the first rule of auteur film directing is getting a great alter ego and in the impossibly suave Mastrianni, Fellini had the best of them all.

Rating: 4/5 stars