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Italy, 1962 (MIFF 1964)

Director: Federico Fellini

Tired and unsure, a famous film director, about to start a new picture, goes to a spa near Rome, hoping that rest will restore his perspective. Joined by his co-workers who hound him with suggestions for the new film, pestered by people who want jobs, disturbed by the presence of both his wife and his mistress, he is haunted by dreams and daydreams. He recalls his parents, his childhood, his schooldays , a strange experience with a grotesque prostitute. He sees himself as the whip cracking master of a harem containing every woman he has ever known; at one stage he imagines he is hanging his script writer. As the time draws near when the shooting of the film must start he decides to abandon the production and suddenly his confusion is dispelled. All the people in his life past and present pass before him and — as though realising that they have all been meaningful in his store of experience — he joins them gaily.

This is an introspective film supposedly autobiographical, certainly personal and subjective. The action weaves almost imperceptibly between reality and fantasy, in a smooth flow which obliges the viewer to find out for himself where each begins and ends. Fellini's extraordinary artistry of direction, his great range of purely cinematic imagination, his unerring eye for the picturesque and effective shot is evident in every sequence. Surrealistic and symbolic 8½ is not easy to understand yet is never less than fascinating; as an account of spiritual bankruptcy it is infinitely more revealing, more vividly and intensely alive, than the director's La Dolce Vita.

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