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Honestly… hm, honestly? Honestly I was bored. Actually annoyed at times, by how Fellini performs his opera of self-indulgence in this film about a vain, virile, excessively popular and creatively challenged movie director. This is the second time in two days that I am writing about a self-reflective and self-indulging bit of film-making, where the fact that this is a movie is more important than what this movie is all about. Film people have this dangerous trap in their way: they think film is everything, everything is film, and film cures all diseases. Fellini was struggling with his fame and vanity, and he made a film about it. Maybe it is a more interesting than really good film, in the way that too deep a glance into the artist’s soul stands in the way of more general themes. In “8 ½”, the depression (or madness) of the director cannot be cured by healthy water or mud packages. Even applying generous doses of beautiful women do not mend his broken brain. He is diving ever more deeply into his paranoia and visions, where he indulges in the carnal pleasures, but is also haunted by his impotence to make this one more film, love this one woman, or be this one little boy again who so much enjoyed watching the old whore dance the rumba.

I have not seen too many Fellini films in my life, but I recall that with “E La Nave Va”, I had the same feeling of style dominating substance, of stunning images being rearranged and piled up to stress the one item of content or message the film carries. Marcello Mastroianni’s character wants to be left alone, but he could not survive being left alone, social animal that he is. That gives plenty of opportunity to show cabaret and variété, visions of harem and night shots of spectacular movie sets. It also allows to mock about the intellectuals and their topics, the actresses and their hollowness, the maidens and their grace, the movie producers and their crudeness. Thing is: While this is all well-intended, it is so self-reflective that appears a bit dated, a bit simple, even crude from today’s perspective. We know what the trouble is with “Guido” and the world he lives in after five minutes (Fellini is an excellent story-teller, after all). The rest of the two hours does not get us (or the director) any closer to a solution. If Guido is “cured” in the end, it is because he survived the depression, not because he made the right choices. He is rewarded with a nice and curious musical parade – and with being allowed to continue the way he was. In this final scene, I was also reminded of what Michael Philips recently said about Fellini films: while the films may be sooner forgotten than we would like to think today, Nino Rota’s music may well be immortal.

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