8  ½



Otto e Mezzo : Italy 1963 : Federico Fellini : 138 mins

A narcissistic film-maker (Marcello Mastroianni) mopes around a fancy spa resort, struggling to cope with the demands of his art and his life. In fantasy interludes, we explore his dreams and memories, and how they come together to form his artistic preoccupations. Chiefly of interest these days as the template for Woody Allen’s vastly superior Stardust Memories, 8 has its moments – there are some remarkable images here, deliriously artificial compositions captured by a fluid camera prowling around the slightly surreal, heightened architecture. Given the lengthy running time, however, and the desperation of Fellini’s energetic attempts to impress, this is perhaps the least we can expect.

But it’s all very repetitive, with predictably diminishing results, that soon reveal there’s very little in the script to support the whole elaborate edifice. The ‘story’, such as it is, is almost impossible to follow – Mastroianni, like the audience, seems baffled by what’s going on. And it hardly seems worth the bother, rapidly degenerating into a soporific mess of self-referential smartness that’s about one percent as clever as it pretends to be. It’s typical that there’s no way of knowing what the title means unless you’re up to speed on the director’s career – by his reckoning, he’d made seven and a half films before this one.

It might be more accurate to say, however, that the title gives away the fact that this is really just ‘half a movie’ – because, while there is some interesting material here, it’s nowhere near enough to stretch beyond two hours, and long before Fellini wheels on a band made up of musical clowns, it’s clear he’s run out of ideas. Shameless self-indulgence can be a wonderful thing – but it depends on the self who’s being indulged.

16th March 2002
(seen 24th February, Cineside Newcastle, DVD projection)

by Neil Young
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