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Blu-ray Review: Fellini's '8½'

Regularly voted one of the greatest films of all time, Federico Fellini's peerless 8½ (1963) comes to Blu-ray for the first time this week thanks to European cinema preservationists Argent. Regarded by Fellini himself as his eight-and-a-halfth feature - hence the playful, self-referential title - would go on to be recognised as the Italian auteur's magnum opus, a remarkable work of autobiography that disguises itself exquisitely under layers and layers of rich theatricality. Both terrifically funny and brutally honest, Fellini lays himself bare for all to see in the guise of Marcello Mastroianni's frustrated filmmaker.

Mastroianni plays Fellini cypher Guido Anselmi, a revered arthouse director basking in the warm glow of critical and commercial success following yet another box office hit. Unfortunately, however, the progress of his eagerly anticipated follow-up is halted by a bout of what Guido himself describes as "director's block". His creative juices all but evaporated and constantly distracted by an army of writers, producers, actors and love interests - including his wife (Anouk Aimée) and mistress (Sandra Milo) - Guido retreats into his own subconscious in search of inspiration. As past memories are resurrected before his eyes, victorious romantic conquests and crushing adolescent defeats intertwine with the harsh reality of the present day.

With Italian cinema going through somewhat of a minor renaissance of late (Paolo Sorrentino's Palme d'Or contender The Great Beauty is undoubtedly indebted to Fellini's own La Dolce Vitta), Argent have picked the perfect opportunity to commemorate with this superb high definition transfer. Gianni Di Venanzo's sublime cinematography if finally given the spotlight only 35mm has previously afforded it, the screen alive with bold contrasts and masterful mirroring as Guido peers ever inwards upon himself. Equally commendable for contributing to the film's shimmering status is Nino Rota's score, blending the likes of Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries with opera and modern jazz. As a maelstrom of sound and vision converge - or, at other points, tear asunder - Guido is left to stalk this hinterland between fact and fabrication, a solitary keyholder to the gates of truth.

Fellini's perspective on the fairer sex remains as clouded and troublesome as ever, drifting between sympathy and downright admonishment - often in the same scene. One particularly memorable (if questionable) sequence sees a whip-carrying Guido thrashing ex-girlfriends and frivolous flings into subjugation as a circus performer would to his harem of snarling lionesses. Yet, its such wild, reckless flights of fancy that have cemented 8½'s place in world cinema history, a majestic, dreamlike artefact oft-aped but arguably never bettered. Though extras on this new Blu-ray release prove relatively sparse, an exclusive 50-minute Fellini on Fellini interview with the man himself should go some way towards tempting those looking to upgrade from DVD.

Daniel Green
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