“8 ½ ” – Fellini’s Treatise on Passing

Eight and a Half Fellini


Title: “8 ½ ”

Release Date: 1963

Director: Federico Fellini

Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimee, Sanda Milo, Claudia Cardinale, Rossella Falk, Barbara Steele, Guido Alberti, etc.



Is there a cure for passing? Is a man’s worth measured by the sum of his achievements? What is the meaning of human existence? – These are the questions Federico Fellini wrestles with in “8 ½ “. And he does it in a light-hearted style, avoiding unnecessary, lied pathos.


“8 ½ ” from 1963 is a film which, despite the passage of time, has not aged at all. It is the most outstanding work in the career of the famous Italian director. The title itself gives the film an autothematic frame, as it is Fellini’s eighth work. The term “eight and a half” indicates the peculiar incompleteness of the work. It is like an unfinished and interrupted statement, or perhaps one that cannot be completed. This unfulfillment plays the role of leit-motiv, as well as an interpretative key. The main protagonist of “8 ½ ” is a director who is in the midst of a creative crisis and despite his best efforts cannot complete his film.

Guido Anselmi (played by Marcello Mastroianni) is 43 years old and due to health problems he goes to a sanatorium in the Umbrian thermal spas in Chianciano. His ailing body and lack of inspiration prevent him from working on his new film. What’s more, Guido is overwhelmed by the pressure of his own fame – everyone expects him, as an eminent director, to create an outstanding work, even surpassing all his previous ones. Guido is soon joined by his frivolous lover Carla (Sandra Milo) and then by his nervous wife Luisa (Anouk Aimee). Torn between two women, Guido wants to avoid having to make a final choice and dreams of the young, beautiful Claudia (Claudia Cardinale). It is she who is to provide the lead performance in Guido’s latest film. The film, devoid of a traditional plot, ends with a scene of a circus parade, in which all the characters from the protagonist’s private and professional life participate.

Eight and a half movie review

“8 ½ ” – “The Magic Mountain” and Fellini

“8 ½ ” clearly refers to Thomas Mann’s great novel “The Magic Mountain”. Fellini used here an analogous narrative situation – the main character arrives at an exclusive sanatorium to improve his health a little, but unexpectedly his stay is prolonged indefinitely. The process of treatment provides an opportunity to look at the protagonist in various dimensions – his physicality, but also to analyze subconscious fears and memories. The illness itself, like in Mann’s prose, has a symbolic dimension. It is a sign of the crisis of Western culture, but also of Guido’s personal crisis.

Fellini gave the protagonist of “8 ½ ” clear autobiographical traits, therefore initiating a kind of game with the viewer. For this reason the film has often been read as a record of the great director’s crisis and his doubt in his own abilities. Signs of this deadlock are visible from the very first scene of the film, when we find ourselves in the middle of Guido’s nightmare. The character suffocates inside his car, in front of indifferent people isolated from the world by the windows of their own cars. In another scene, on the other hand, the man directly expresses his artistic sterility: “I have nothing to say, and yet I say…”

“8 ½ ” – passing as a disease of the soul and body

In Fellini’s peculiar dialogue with Thomas Mann there are, however, much deeper levels. In the “8 ½ “, old age comes to the fore. It is the struggle with the signs of slow wear and tear of the body that is the reason for the famous patients’ visits to the sanatorium. Each of Guido’s friends tries to retain his youth in his own way. Here we see an overview of the age-old methods of coping with a mid-life crisis. For example, a well-known film producer tries to rejuvenate himself by finding a lover several decades younger (Barbara Steele). Guido, on the other hand, dreams of beautiful Claudia, who would solve all his personal and professional problems.

Eight and a Half film analysis

The passage of time, which brings with it irreversibility of many decisions and growing complications in life, is the most powerful problem a man has to face – says Fellini. The awareness of not being able to start everything from the beginning, fix old mistakes and choose other ways, overwhelms a man as much as the loss of physical beauty and fitness.

“8 ½ ” – all Fellini’s women

Women experience the farewell to youth even more dramatically than men. This is reflected in the famous “harem” scene – in which Guido, after returning home, tries to bring order among the close female representatives and sends the oldest ones to a separate floor. The symbolism of isolation shows what old age means for women. Women in our culture are judged primarily in terms of physical attractiveness and vitality. The loss of these attributes makes them invisible – and therefore results in a kind of exclusion.

“8 ½ ” is a film in which Fellini presents a whole gallery of female characters. For his mother appears here – a symbol of eternal love and goodness. In the retrospective scenes from his childhood, Saraghina (Eddra Gale) appears – a prostitute from Rimini (Fellini’s birthplace!), who dances rumba for teenage boys for money. This monstrously shaped woman is a symbol of kinky, uninhibited sexuality, which at the same time remains taboo. In “8 ½ ” we also see the hero’s steady wife and her opposite, the kitschy and carefree lover. A special place among these female portraits is occupied by Claudia, played by the phenomenal Claudia Cardinale. She is a symbol of an artistic muse, purity, youth and an unfulfilled dream that one can start everything from the beginning with a completely clean sheet.

Eight and a half Fellini

Fellini thus presents almost all shades of femininity. They embody maternity, eroticism and creative inspiration. The figure of a woman is somehow at the center of the director’s world – she is a guide, a goal, but also an affliction and a cause of suffering. Guido’s obstacle in these relationships is his characteristic Italian immaturity. His biggest problem is lack of love, which Claudia accuses him of three times. The protagonist dreams about love, but is unable to give it or receive it. He is therefore a typical neurotic of our times. His existence is characterized by eternal unfulfillment.

“8 ½ ” – an affirmation of the chaos of life

“8 ½ ” is, however, a film that unexpectedly finds a clear conclusion. The final scene, in which all the characters join together in a joyful parade, is an expression of the affirmation of life. Guido comes to the conclusion that the secret lies in accepting life and himself in his imperfection. Moreover, this circus motif, characteristic of Fellini’s entire oeuvre, underlines the peculiar nature of human existence – as an eternal improvisation from which sometimes something wonderful comes out. Such a philosophy of life helps to accept what is most difficult – its inevitable transience. The victory comes from human consciousness, in which the past, present and future coexist in a chaotic procession. Beyond chronology and time.