8 ½ (1963) laughs sarcastically at the snap generalisation that books rather than movies can make you just stop for an instant and think about them, about the world and about other metanarratives.
The title stands for the number of the movies its director, Federico Fellini, has been involved in. (Don’t let the “½” confuse you – it’s a collaboration with another director.) Some critics may call this a lack of imagination, but if you bear in mind that this movie is about a filmmaker who experiences a 'crisis of inspiration', can you come up with a more relevant and hauntingly simple title?
Originally released on 14 February, 8 ½ could be seen as a complex response to love as its main character, Guido Anselmi, a movie director, grows tired both of his wife and his mistress, but his love of art although conflicting doesn’t die away.
Half a century later, we can definitely draw a parallel between 8 ½ and La Grande Belleza (2013). Or at least, I easily can because (maybe not that oddly enough), I first watched the latter which is heavily influenced by its classic predecessor 8 ½.
So we make a comparison between them not just because we could, without any fear of sounding pretentious, argue that they’ve changed Italian cinema forever. Both movies follow the story of an internally conflicted artist who has lost their connection with the Muse (or as Guido calls it – the spirits). In search of the beauty, balance and creativity, the artist is deemed to befriend the hostility of the world that makes everything feel out of place.
Guido Anselmi reminds me of Atlas, whose shoulders here bear the weight of the logic that the world around him demands. He is asked multiple questions about his next movie by his producer, the actresses and the audience. This inner crisis makes him doubt the talent he has, because Guido is unable to provide the tangible and logical product that is needed. Inspired by his confusing dreams and memories, he wants to stay loyal to his audience by making "a film that could help to bury forever all those dead things we carry within ourselves."
Black-and-white, the avant-garde 8 ½ presents the world as multi-layered, blending the infinite shades of the distant past into the colours of the alienating present; it blurs the outlines between dreams and reality like a crayon because they intersect unceasingly.
And while it literally enchants us by taking us back in time with its nostalgia-inducing soundtrack, it uses simple words to teach us complicated life lessons: “Accept me as I am. Only then can we discover each other.”
Even though praised by many, Federico Fellini said: “I don’t like the idea of “understanding” a film. I don’t believe that rational understanding is an essential element in the reception of any work of art. Either a film has something to say to you or it hasn’t. If you are moved by it, you don’t need it explained to you. If not, no explanation can make you moved by it.”
So it probably seems like an overwhelming feeling of freedom when an author eliminates their constraints when it comes to the “reading” of their art. We’re left with the multiplicity of meanings.
8 ½ is definitely one of those life-changing movies whose name and plot you’ll remember long after leaving the cinema.