Why "8½"? With six solo films behind him and three collaborations (counting as a half each), this film was Fellini's 8½ movie. It is also perhaps his most introverted and self-referential. Despite its insular nature, it got under the skin of many and went on to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar of 1963.
Marcello Mastroianni stars as a film director on the brink of making his next big movie, and possibly his first nervous breakdown. We join him at a health farm where mud baths, holy water, and bathing in springs have been recommended for his possible salvation. Along for the ride is the mistress who he's already bored with, and a whole array of memories that play before us in a slideshow interrupted by visitors desperate for guidance on his forthcoming film.
This is a film about film-making and a stricken soul trying to find solutions in a visceral form. Strong reflections of Fellini play across Mastroianni, who is suffering from the expectations of others that he is about to deliver another masterpiece. His character is made all the more potent because Fellini faced many similar problems getting this film made. The production managers, agents, and producers that swarm around Mastroianni are undoubtedly representative of those involved with Fellini's career.
Dreams of the future merge with memories of the past as a fascinating array of imagery is conjured to the screen. The effect is sometimes confusing - but always beautiful - and eventually intertwines to a singular life-confirming realisation that cuts through the madness and embraces it.
Read a review of the DVD.