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On June 25, 1963, Federico Fellini’s 8½, described at the time as a “provocative film for art house trade,” made its way to theaters stateside. The film picked up two Oscars at the 36th annual Academy Awards ceremony, including best foreign language film. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below.
8½ is a grim fable of modern man, a true art picture and one that is likely to be limited in its general appeal but strong in the special houses where audiences want this sort of cerebral cinema.
Joseph E. Levine, whose Embassy Pictures is releasing 8½ in North America, may hope that the new Federico Fellini film will duplicate the popular success of his Dolce Vita. 8½ is far removed from that previous film, however, and seems to be more in the vein — from a release point of view — of Last Year at Marienbad. 8½ will have strong and vocal partisans.
Fellini shares writing credits on 8½ with Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano and Brunello Rondi, but it is a personal story he is telling, as indicated by the title. It sums up, numerically, the number of films Fellini has made, including segments.
The story concerns an Italian movie director who finds himself at a sterile period artistically. As he tries to prepare a new film, he finds his current life and his whole past life crowding in to distract and disturb him. The style, of necessity, is realistic, impressionistic and surrealistic, with flashbacks, confusion of time sequences and of personality. What is real and what is fantasy? What is memory and what is actuality? These are the questions the situation poses, along with the life problems that are peculiar to the creative artist and in some ways applicable to man in general.
Fellini keeps a grasp on his difficult form, creating some penetrating, witty, tragic moments. For the average viewer, it may seem too personal a situation and one too special in treatment despite its universality. Marcello Mastroianni plays the director, underplaying with grasp and power. The other actors are all supporting, in terms of relation to this central character. Important and valuable are Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimee, Sandra Milo, Rossella Falk, Barbara Steele, Edra Gale, Mario Pisu, Guido Alberti, Madeleine LeBeau and Giuditta Rissone. Despite Mastroianni’s dominance, each of these actors achieves memorable scenes.
Nino Rota’s music score is very good, often playing with romanticism against the despair of the visual portions. Other credits are top-notch, particularly the tricky editing by Leo Catozzo. — James Powers, originally published on July 11, 1963.
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