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Film Review: '8½'

A regular fixture in discussions of cinema's greatest ever achievements, Federico Fellini's 8½ (1963) returns to screens this week thanks to European preservationists Argent and the British Film Institute. 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 in equal measure, Fellini lays himself bare for all to see in the guise of Marcello Mastroianni's frustrated filmmaker.

The inimitable Mastroianni - the iconic star of last year's official Cannes poster - plays Fellini cypher Guido Anselmi, a revered arthouse director basking in the warm glow of critical and commercial success following yet another resounding 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, pictured right) - 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 reality.

Gianni Di Venanzo's sublime cinematography is rejuvenated by this new print, the screen alive with bold contrasts and masterful mirroring as Guido peers ever inwards upon himself. Equally culpable 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, it's these 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.

Daniel Green | @DanGreen1986

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