A chancer awaits a tap on the shoul­der

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

Amus­ing: Clau­dia Car­di­nale in Fed­erico Fellini’s 8 1/2

8 1/2 Di­rected by Fed­erico Fellini. Star­ring Mar­cello Mas­troianni, Clau­dia Car­di­nale, Anouk Aimée, San­dra Milo, Bar­bara Steele. Club, IFI, Dublin, 138 min When film-foax use the word “Felliniesque”, they’re likely al­lud­ing to the grotes­querie of Ama­cord or Satyri­con, or the loaded sym­bol­ism of La Strada. But ask them to name the first Fellini film to pop into their head and they’ll likely say this one or La Dolce Vita. 8½ (1963) may not touch neatly upon all of that great direc­tor’s pet pre­oc­cu­pa­tions, yet it is some­how the na­tional an­them of Fellini.

Ev­ery­thing about it shouts Fellini. The ti­tle refers to the num­ber of films the direc­tor had made (by his own count). The film’s hero, Guido Anselmi (Mar­cello Mas­troianni), is a fa­mous Ital­ian film direc­tor suf­fer­ing from “direc­tor’s block”. He’s work­ing on a film that seems to be, well, 8½ , which at least one char­ac­ter dis­misses as au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal trivia.

In keep­ing with one of the direc­tor’s favourite tropes, the film un­folds like a se­ries of cir­cus acts. The Marx­ist writer scolds (Guido’s film “doesn’t have the ad­van­tage of the avant-garde films, although it has all of the draw­backs”). The muse (Clau­dia Car­di­nale) disappoints. The pro­ducer begs that the gi­ant set he has paid for be used more. A be­sieged Guido ends up dou­ble­book­ing time at the spa with both his wife (Anouk Aimée) and mis­tress (San­dro Milo).

Guido un­der­stand­ably es­capes into rev­erie: there are mem­o­ries of a farm­house, of spy­ing on a pros­ti­tute with other school­boys, of cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment at the hands of a priest.

Gianni Di Ve­nanzo’s cam­era bobs and weaves (watch for the sneaky back­tracks) and Nina Rota’s score adds to the sen­sa­tion that we’re watch­ing an ex­trav­a­gant piece of chore­og­ra­phy. The mo­tor­way pile-up of images and dis­parate threads bonds us to Guido, who moves us not by any hero­ics, but be­cause he is a chancer who feels like a tap on the shoul­der is com­ing. And com­ing soon.

For a film pur­port­ing to be about not be­ing able to make a film, 8½ is teem­ing with ideas about Catholi­cism and fem­i­nin­ity. How can any woman live up to any billing in a so­ci­ety determined to po­larise an en­tire gen­der into vir­gins and whores? Is there any es­cape from old­fash­ioned Catholic guilt?

It is a work that never fails to re­ward and sur­prise. It makes ev­ery mus­cle in your body con­tract and pulse with stress be­fore al­low­ing us to float off like Guido’s open­ing day­dream.

As the flop mu­si­cal Nine il­lus­trates, it’s not easy mak­ing fraz­zled look so ef­fort­less.

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