Otto e Mezzo - 8 1/2
The Bear recommends Fellini movies as a sure-fire way to put a smile on your face. 8 1/2 gets a Fresh Salmon Award of 5 out of 5 Fish. It is quite tame, although the main character is having an affair, and lies about it to his wife.
8 1/2 (Otto e Mezzo) depicts a director, Guido (Marcello Mastroianni), in the grips of artistic paralysis, as the clock ticks down to the beginning of shooting. He is devoid of ideas, and cannot even cast the film. He spends the entire movie putting off questioners with vague answers. He wants to be artistically truthful, even as a giant (and expensive) rocket ship set is rising. He is completely detached from the (no doubt bad) science fiction movie he is supposed by directing.
His "inner critic" is on the outside, pleasantly picking apart all of his ideas, until a humorous scene during casting. (Probably one the Bear will appreciate more keenly after Judging Angels comes out.)
However, he is not so truthful in his life. He is married to Luisa, but is cheating with Carlotta (Sandra Milo), who is also married. Carlotta does not inspire him, though, and becomes more of a demand or distraction.
His roleplaying with Carlotta portrays her as a woman of little worth and no morals. He also fantasizes about a pure beauty in white: (Claudia Cardinale). He seems fond of Carlotta, and enjoys their physical relationship, but Guido doesn't really seem satisfied with anything. There is never a hint that they will leave their spouses and marry.
Marcello Mastroianni is brilliant in a mostly understated performance. When he's not wearing a little cowboy hat and wielding a bullwhip, that is. He projects ennui without depression, and is game for the most ridiculous scenes. The other standout is Sandra Milo as Carlotta, who should have gotten an award for the following scene, if nothing else. She steals every scene she's in, exuding Italian sensuality. (Both actresses in the scene were from Tunisa, as was Claudia Cardinale, who won the "Most Beautiful Woman in Tunisia in 1957.)
Here is the Bear's favorite scene. Guido and Luisa (his wife) are together, when who should arrive by carriage but Carlotta, with white muff and hat. Carlotta and Luisa's eyes meet.
Carlotta does a wonderfully expressive little comic dance of indecision. She bats her eyelashes, puts her fingers to her mouth uncertainly. Half-turn, long, hesitant step, then a smart turn toward the couple and she flounces to her own table. Guido gives a little indulgent smile, like, 'That's my Carlotta." (Or maybe he is flattered by being between his two women.) An argument ensues in which Guido lies to Luisa, and claims this is the first time he's seen Carlotta in a long time. Luisa cries "vaca!" (cow).
Carlotta's unforgettable entrance is near the beginning, but stick around for the fantasy ending, where Carlotta sings along with the score like a bird, and-
Guido is so unhappy, even some of his fantasies turn into nightmares. He dreams of all the women he has known being in a harem, while he is bathed and coddled by them like an infant. His wife does all the housework and backs up his every utterance. But a dancer - sentenced to "go upstairs" because she is too old - leads a rebellion.
The Bear just realized that it is very hard to describe a Fellini film.
In 8 1/2, Guido's disastrous personal life is mirrored in the doomed film project. The film is ostensibly about making a film, or, to be more accurate, not making one. The people surrounding the project fade in to his fantasies and back again.
La Matta (Fool) and Her Unexpected Rhumba
Guido has a flashback to a beach where a mysterious, large, woman with tangled black hair lives in a pillbox from WWII. The boys give her money, and she dances for them, throwing her heart into a surprisingly competent rhumba. It's a wonderful scene that catches the boys' innocence, and never breaks it, even if it bends it just a little. What the Bear remembers best, though, is the joy and confidence of a dance that turns la matta into an object of pre-adolescent fascination for the boys.
Priests go after Guido on the beach in a Benny Hill type chase. Guido the director seeks inspiration from a prelate, but the latter has nothing useful to offer. It seems that no one has the answers he's groping for.
Accept Life and Live It
The tone is light-hearted and nostalgic. Nino Rota's score is perfect, as always. (He wrote the score for The Godfather, and won Best Score Oscar for Godfather II.) The Bear thinks this is a film about the creative process. Guido is always elsewhere around people. Despite his bad marriage and Carlotta, he is attracted to Claudia Cardinale's chaste nurse figure. In many ways, he wants to return to his childhood (a typical Fellini theme). There is a beautifully filmed, tender scene of the children in his family being put to bed. Guido desires that innocence, even to the point of infantalizing himself in his harem fantasy.
Does the film get made? Ultimately, that is not important. What is important is that Guido recognizes all the characters in his life, and that he join with them in the dance here and now.