Frederico Fellini’s 8 ½
Frederico Fellini’s 8 ½ is considered to be a master piece, and has won the Oscar, which is one of the most widely acclaimed recognitions possible for excellence in cinema. This movie is peculiar in that its narrative role is restricted to a form of telling that fills in the gaps of how a film is made. When a usual film is produced, it undergoes a whole battery of processes which are not to be seen by the audience: the sets, the anxiety of the actors and directors etc. all play a part in the overall narrative scheme of a film but remain unnoticed. Fellini’s process in this movie turns this assumption on its head. He uses a meta-cinematic approach (Bondanella, P., 161). He exploits cross-referential commentary by placing it in an unexpected part of narrative: the entire plot of 8 ½ revolves around a filmmaker who is anxious about the process of making his film. Thus, 8 ½ is a visually driven film about film making and is not concerned with complex plotlines or narrative devices, but uses irony to make self-commentary.
The introductory scene uses eerie imagery that is interesting, yet opaque. At this stage one does not know what the plot can potentially develop into. The character on screen is suffocated by fumes in a car, till suddenly he is flying across the sky and eventually, when he least expects it, has a free fall. The scene pans out and we realise that it is the director of the film who has had a nightmare. As the movie develops further, the director is shown to be under great stress and anxiety over the shape his film is taking, or rather not taking. The initial shot in hindsight becomes a predictive omen which opens to the audience a “…pervading anxiety in it that foreshadows the collapse of the director’s plans for his film” (Singer, 201).
Halfway into the narrative scheme, which Fellini constructs with images, the understanding of the director’s problems is made more concrete as a squabble between his mistress and his wife, the petulant actresses and the quibbling director (Singer, 202). He is clad in black through out the movie, which is monochrome, and is shadowed by all the problems that beset his production. When the film is nearing its conclusive moments, and the audience is going to learn what happens of the director’s film, the remains of the sets used for the film are shown as the summary result of his abortive efforts (Singer, 203). The sets were intended for the film, which was based on a post apocalyptic rocket launch, and thus the empty set is a symbolic visual of his plans for the film, which did not take off. The movie at this point is almost tragic, but being the sole engagement of a director with no other plot elements creating a real dilemma or ethical quandary capable of generating pathos, Fellini uses a further device to twist the understanding of the movie.
While the entire movie is replete with the conflicts of the director’s ambition and the resulting anxiety, the last segment in the movie ratifies the angle of interpretation as a visual exercise in ironic self-commentary. From the dream scene at the start we are introduced to the directors later fall from purpose; his failure in making the film he intended. At the end, the actors on screen are two laughing clowns and a comical tune by Nina Rota plays in the background, indicating that the project has ended in a laughable outcome. It is also symbolic of the relief of the director in knowing that at least the harrowing part of making the film is over (Singer, 204). There is also the irony of the director who failed, and that his failed film is a film on its own. In effect the director in being the focal character indeed deserves the last laugh. Thus, while the film is largely visually driven it is also a retelling of the prosaic efforts that go into making one.
Bondanella, Peter. The Cinema of Federico Fellini. UK: Cambridge University Press,
Singer, Irving. Cinematic Mythmaking; Philosophy in Film. USA: The MIT Press, 2008.