Otto e Mezzo By Federico Fellini: A Fascinating Film
8½ (Otto e Mezzo in Italian) made in 1963 by Italian director Federico Fellini is an incredible mixture of surrealism, drama, and comedy. Most of the movie utilizes dreamlike scenes and logic as well as symbolism. Sometimes, it is difficult to tell whether a scene in the movie is really happening or if it is only a dream of the main character, Marcello, played by Marcello Mastroianni. Today, it is regarded as a highly influential film and one of the best foreign films ever made.
The story begins with Marcello, a director who is struggling to make his next film due to a lack of creativity. He dreams that he is stuck in a car full of smoke which, in turn, is stuck in a traffic jam. Everyone else in traffic stares blankly at him from the other cars as he suffocates, no one moving to help him. He is finally able to break free, flying up into the sky and experiencing a few brief moments of freedom before men on the ground try to pull him back down by a rope attached to his ankle.
Otto e Mezzo Review
In his waking life, Marcello is under great stress from not being able to figure out how to make his next film. However, a huge structure representing a science-fiction rocket ship launchpad has already been built, waiting, in vain, to be used in filming. He distracts himself with his lavishly dressed lover, Carla, but he is only able to connect with her superficially and he makes her stay in a hotel separate from his.
One time, when he is trying to sleep in his room, a woman appears. From here, Marcello enters a dream world where he is confronted by his father and mother (played by Giuditta Rissona, the wife of Vittorio De Sica) in a graveyard. His parents dig up the worries and fears Marcello has always had while simultaneously trying to comfort him. In the waking world, Marcello’s film crew moves into his hotel in an attempt to motivate him to get started on the film, to no avail.
There is also a very interesting sequence of Marcello’s childhood where he lives with other boys his age along with Catholic priests. He and the other boys, dressed in black uniforms, sneak away from the priests to a beach where a prostitute, Saraghina, lives. The boys urge her to dance, which she does, in a sensual and bold manner, much to the dismay to the priests who eventually catch up with the boys. One of the priests drags Marcello into a space where a huge portrait of Dominic Savio, a symbol of purity, looms. Near the portrait is his mother crying in a chair, ashamed of his behavior.
Another scene from his childhood is when he lives in a house of many women, along with many children. In this scene, he is thrown into a giant barrel of wine to be cleaned. When the bath is finished, the women wrap him up in a white blanket and carry him to bed very tenderly.
This is paralleled with an imaginary sequence later in the film where Marcello as an adult rules over a harem of women who he has met throughout his life, including many lovers and his estranged wife, Luisa. In this imaginary harem, he is similarly bathed in a giant barrel and wrapped up in a white blanket by several women who all seem to care for him. However, an aged showgirl ruins this fantasy by starting a revolution and causing the other women to turn against him.
In the waking world, Marcello invites his wife to come and visit him, but it is clear that any love they used to have for each other is destroyed. At dinner with his wife and a friend, Marcello talks about what he would like to make a film about: something that is pure. However, he can’t seem to fully grasp this idea which is why he has been unable to make a film.
Later on, Marcello, his wife, and a few others go to a theater to review the little material that has already been shot for the movie. One of the characters in the movie bitterly represents Marcello’s wife, Marcello even urging the actress to wear the same eyeglasses as Luisa does. Luisa recognizes this and storms out of the theater, declaring to Marcello that their marriage is over.
A Closer Look
Meanwhile, throughout the entire film of 8 1/2, Marcello has been haunted by a smiling woman all in white named Claudia (played by Claudia Cardinale), his so-called Ideal Woman. She represents everything that he cannot possess: purity and innocence. However, after the scene with Luisa, Claudia appears in the theater dressed all in black, saying that she is an actress. The two leave the theater and drive until they reach an empty street in the city where they both leave the car and talk.
Claudia, in a serene manner, tells Marcello of all the fears he has been trying not to acknowledge. This occurs after Marcello what his film is really about: a disillusioned man who finds hope from a perfect and pure woman. This of course, is an obvious parallel between Marcello and Claudia. In response, Claudia tells him that no one would sympathize with his character because of his inability to love. Marcello tries to refute her, but Claudia presses her point, leading Marcello into a pit of mental turmoil and despair. This theme of lack of love (and purity) is echoed from Fellini’s previous film, La Dolce Vita, and yet in 8 1/2 is completely transformed.
Marcello no longer wants to make his film, but his film producer suddenly organizes a press conference in one last attempt to get Marcello to start the film. A throng of people surround a long table at which Marcello, his producer, and other members of the film crew sit. As the questions of journalists bombard him, Marcello clearly becomes unstable, eventually crawling under the table after a man hands him a gun. Marcello shoots himself in the head, ushering a sudden silence and calmness, but he only imagined this suicide, finding himself talking with a few of the film crew members later on.
Understanding Otto e Mezzo
However, this imagined suicide is not meaningless. It gave Marcello the realization that he needs to stop making a film that will please others and instead focus on life how it exists around him. He talks to his wife, Luisa, about this, and asks if she can stick with him on this journey, and, with a smile, she says that she will try. Marcello is finally able to shoot a scene of his film.
As he yells for the scene to start, countless people from his life descend a giant staircase that had been obscured by a curtain. A small band plays, the band including a little boy dressed in a white uniform identical to the black uniform that Marcello used to wear as a child at the Catholic school. It is hard to tell how real this final scene is because all the people that he has known throughout his life are present, including his parents who should not be alive. Moreover, they are all dressed in clean white clothes, including the old prostitute Saraghina who always used to dress in black rags.
All these people join hands and dance in a line up on a long platform. Marcello and Luisa who had previously been cold to each other throughout the movie, also join hands and join the dancing line, all symbolizing Marcello’s ability to harmonize with all the aspects of his life that used to strain and torture him. And that is the story of Otto e Mezzo.