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This Federico Fellini neo-realist film basically deals with ordinary life. In this film Fellini uses a style of filmmaking developed in Italy in the 1940s by great directors such as Rossellini and De Sica, which deal typically with the problems of ordinary life. Contrary to films like Adrian Lyne’s Jacob's Ladder (1990), and other works by surrealist filmmakers, Fellini’s 8 1/2 is probably the most notable film within which fantasy and reality are mixed without confusion. Its central character is Guido (Marcello Mastroianni) is a successful director, who enjoyed the success of a big hit but is uncertain of his next project. The hype created around his last hit, draws producers, writers and actresses, who wish to work on his next project, which Guido is uncertain about. An exorbitant set is under construction even though Guido only has vague ideas about the film he is going to make. As a result, pressure is starting to build.

The film begins with a dramatic dream sequence in which Guido sees himself trapped inside his car in the middle of a traffic jam. Gasping for air and nearly suffocating to death, Guido watches people pass by completely indifferent to his torment. He enigmatically begins to float into the sky, while clergies and others pull him while he hovers over them. Guido then is abruptly tugged back to the ground. Unlike in a surrealist film, the character is aware that what he has experienced has just been a dream, a fantasy, caused by stress. In his effort to overcome his creative dry spell, and come in touch with reality, Guido is advised by his doctor to spend time recuperating at a spa, drinking mineral water.

His creative retreat is spent surrounded by people who are most familiar with him: his mistress Carla (Sandra Milo), his wife Luisa (Anouk Aimee), his producer Pace (Guido Alberti), and several actors who want to appear in his film. Guido wants to believe that he is in the process of creating a simple film but on the other hand, he approves plans to construct an elaborate movie set for a science fiction film. He supplements the salvation sought by drinking mineral water treatments with cigarettes and alcohol, contributing factors to his anxiety. Guido continuous to live a life of excess instead of undergoing physical and psychological purification. Unable to derive inspiration from his chaotic environment, he immerses himself in the distraction of childhood memories and indulgent fantasies: conversing with an emotionally inaccessible father; reciting the magic words to a hidden treasure; sneaking out of class to watch the carefree Saraghina (Eddra Gale) perform a sensual dance; attempting to tame the women in his life using circus props. Although in deep submission to the power of his fantasies, Guido is aware of the difference between reality and the fantastic.

In his search for new ideas, through torturous journeys in his subconscious, Guido finds salvation in a figment of his imagination, an angelic Claudia (Claudia Cardinale) who seems to epitomize The Woman. She represents everything he wishes in life: calmness, serenity, and beauty. She walks light-footed, without saying a word, wearing a pure, perfect smile. Despite his desire for her, Guido is not confused as to the difference between fantasy and reality. However does not attempt to separate them in their flow.

8½ (1963)
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