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Reviews

8 1/2

Gareth Higgings

Directed by Frederico Fellini Cert 15, 138 mins

I'm writing this review of Fellini's 8½ in the sky, which is where you could say most of the film takes place. If indeed, the sky is where dreams happen; which makes sense, given how they float. And how Marcello Mastroianni's creatively blocked director Guido floats through his thoughts, or we the audience float through them, in this film that manages to be exquisitely entertaining, crafted with the same kind of attention to scale and detail that must have made the Pyramids, and worthy both of critical acclaim (even the Vatican lists it as one of the 45 best films made in cinema's first hundred years) and repeated watching just for the pleasure of how much new unfolds each time. It's being rereleased to cinemas in crisp restoration - the black and white photography somehow attains the faint hint of blue, Guido's suit could be in a Tom Ford ad, and the ethereal hum of the music makes you feel like you're in a house haunted by the most imaginative and welcoming ghosts. Fellini said that his films came to him as dreams, or J maybe I'm imagining that. He wouldn't mind, though - it's so obvious in 8½ that what matters to him is the creative process as much and maybe moreso than the finished product. Any act of the imagination that seeks to understand more of what it means to be alive on this spinning blue ball, even if it accidentally misrepresents something that Fellini may or may not have said would be welcome as long as it's in good faith. Faith, indeed, gives 8½ much of its substance. Guido's faith, temporarily mislaid, that he can still make films; the church's faith that it will still be in charge of Italy; Fellini's faith that a film which seems to be about his own inner life will be taken seriously by anyone other than himself. 8½ is the things that go on in a person's head; it makes sense that it was born in a dream - the first scene is a dream about a universe of people staring at Guido trapped in a car (watch Woody Allen's Stardust Memories or R.E.M.'s 'Everybody Hurts' video for just two examples of its unignorable influence. Watch anything by Terry Gilliam - not least the magical dance sequence in The Fisher King, and Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty to see how some artists have begun with the master's template but dared to suggest what he might be concerned with if he were still making films today). Yet 8½ itself looks so new; as if we didn't learn what it had to teach us the first time round, and it had to be reborn to speak again. What it's most obviously saying is that making art requires the confidence, or the illusion of confidence, to turn your own inner struggles and hopes into a tapestry for others to witness. Honest artists know that their lives and art blend; the trick is to discern how to show what might help us discover ourselves, rather than merely confront the narcissism of someone with power enough to get their work to an audience. Fellini's great risk is to show us his unfinished id - not least in the form of his portrayal of women. Here they are goddesses and teachers and - sometimes - punishers, but mostly lovers. It's a gift of Fellini's humane perception of everyone that this ends up as respectful magic and not insult. It doesn't hurt that we see Guido variously looking like a cover model, an angel, a priest, a ghost, and a vampire - even in the space of one scene. This is not a narcissistic film - despite its obvious autobiographical tones, it's an invitation to all of us to make art out of our lives. To not be afraid to tell the truth - or to act as if we are not afraid. Why should we be? Along with the glorious circus of community (for Fellini, hell seems to be the opposite of the Sartrean nightmare: Fellini's hell would be no other people) we have the moon and the stars and the ground and the air, words, thoughts, bodies, imagination. What more do we need?