8½ of Fellini

Marco Buti, Via


Commentary on the classic film by the Italian filmmaker.


It's easy to like 8½, and harder to say why. Caught up in Guido's psychology and artistic creation, the discussion tends to get lost in banalities about the unhappy but happy persistence of the boy in his forties. The reach of the film is greater, it transcends psychology. If its axis were psychological, there would be no essential harm in transforming the filmmaker into a musician or writer, since the distance between childhood experience and artistic or personal achievement would remain the same. Remembering the film, however, we know that the damage would be enormous. Guido's profession is the indispensable context of 8½: in contact with the film industry, the traditional problems of the artist and intellectual take on a new and worsened aspect.

Driven by the industry, without which it cannot be born, cinema reaches a large part of the national population. For the money and fame it generates, it's a common dream: everyone wants to register for it. It is the first art form to have forced circulation, analogous in penetration to the expansion of the modern economy. Fellini makes this strength felt when he shows how everything smiles, straightens up and bows when Guido, the director, passes by: everyone wants to be his character. With total reach there corresponds, of course, total responsibility. If everyone wants to show themselves, justice must be done to everyone.

Guido's artistic conception, however, is bourgeois; his yearning is to objectify a personal, idiosyncratic vision, an infantile fixation from which he would thereby be released. This is the explicit psychological problem in the film. The greater scope of the theme, however, implicit, lies in the articulation of its banality with industry, which gives it power. If he were a writer, Guido could disrupt the lives of three, four, five women with his fixations. Much more is impossible, for one who courts with personal means. But Guido is a film director: he has the women of the nation at his disposal, at the disposal of his manias, and he will torment them according to their greater or lesser resemblance to children's myths.

There is a mismatch between the unleashed social forces and the particularism that reacts to them. Faced with the social machine, with the power created by bourgeois development, it is the very bourgeois conception and glorification of the individual – sacred particle, maximum value – that proves grotesque. Taking advantage of industry and stunning the country to objectify an infantile fixation is possible, but absurd: if the triumphant personality is free and capricious, it is because everyone owes him the salary on which they live. As the figure of Guido demonstrates, cruelty and small weaknesses are monumentalized by the private ownership of the social machinery. Cinema challenges the individualist conception of the arts: the search for a subjective guarantee of authenticity – the actor must correspond to the director's previous vision – proves to be tyranny.

The work is not done for the sake of the world, but it is the world that exists for the sake of the vision. This phrase, which for XNUMXth century aesthetes was metaphorical and expressed disgust at the philistine commercialization of life, takes on practical and real meaning when associated with cinema and its economic power. Allied to industrial power, the delicate demand for subjective authenticity shows its arrogant side, the fury of imposing its own vision on others; fury that is symbolic of the violence daily performed in competitive life. One idiosyncrasy wants to be better than the other. Cinema, due to the practical demands of its language, makes explicit what is implicit in the other arts: there is social violence in the impulse that leads to the elaboration of personal mythologies, even in the filigrees of a hermetic poem.


8½ is accused of disproportionately amplifying a small anguish. We have already shown that this enlargement is the theme of the film, and not its defect. The mistake comes from the identification of Guido and Fellini, authorized by the gossip columnists, by the director himself, perhaps, but not by the film. If Fellini is Guido, the latter's conflicts rage identically in the chest of the former, who would be the fool of his own limitations, a nostalgic and fanciful petty bourgeois, incapable of doing anything worthwhile. To defend 8½ it is necessary to show the character in Guido, to make explicit the difference between his way of seeing and our way of seeing him seeing. The more idiosyncratic his purposes, the greater the social significance of his figure, which remains to be exposed.

Guido salutes the French actress saying she looks like a snail, "snail"; the resemblance is really surprising. It is assumed that the dialogue is adjusted to the characters, in order to make it exact; just imagine the difficulty, if the text preceded the actors, to find an actress with the face of a snail. In making the film, the director starts from the actors he has, and not from imaginary characters. The process will not be exclusive to Fellini, but it is of special importance for 8½, whose theme is the inverse procedure: Guido starts from his obsessions, and looks for their resemblance in the actors; but between vision and actor there is an insurmountable gap.

It should not be forgotten, however, that Guido's visions – the beautiful, rich, natural visions and experiences that his actors can only spoil – were themselves filmed, by Fellini. There are two films: a good one, of Guido's real and imaginary life, and a bad one, in which Guido tries to recreate his experience. They correspond to the two ways of filming that we have described. To exemplify, imagine Fellini with an arsenal of ten more or less similar witches. He will take one of them, and try to grasp, in detail, the witch possibilities of the witch he has; this will be the extraordinary Saraghina of Guido's visions. To make the film made by his character, however, Fellini will proceed in a different way: he orders the other nine to imitate the first, already transformed, now, into real life, out of reach of Guido, who would like to reproduce it.

The difference in the result is clear. Filmed according to their individual natures, the news could be interesting; Forced to imitate Saraghina original, they all become cheap copies, play their roles. The two ways of filming correspond, respectively, to 8½ and her character; Guido's comes out beaten. They are also a technical transposition of the social antagonism that we exposed at the outset: the bourgeois yearning, to impose and thus save a purely personal vision, is contrary to the collective commitment, and for that very purpose, from the movies. For Guido, images are worth when biographically saturated; his criterion is memory, his task is recreation. For 8½, images count when fully realized; the criterion is objective significance, the task is revelation object possibilities.

The unattainable freshness of immediate vision, Guido's mirage, is achieved and manufactured by Fellini. Once the unmanufacturable is manufactured, the immediate is mediated, the problems shift. Guido's obsession, which identified the search for beauty with the objectification of his childhood fixations and his adult echoes, remains unjustified. It will be presumptuous to maintain their identity once it has been demonstrated that they can separate. The film would have a theme that it declares outdated, and it would be right to say, as left-wing critics have said, that it doesn't matter.

Nonetheless: it is not enough to know that an aberration is aberrant to take it out of the world; it is not enough, in order to dissolve it, to know that the private ownership of the social machinery is nonsense; marriage is contradictory, does it intend to fix spontaneity? it is not for knowing this that people are less bothered. In effigy, the rationalist conscience has already buried the bourgeois world, which however persists and dictates the rules of existence. This continued and compulsory rerun of worn-out lies is the historic, and current, ground of 8½. the persistence merely practice of customs and institutions, which rationally are already anachronism, gives justice to the mixture of ridicule and despair in the film, demands sustained and even maniacal investigation of the origins, of the reasons that give seven breaths to the corpse. The technique of 8'' makes Guido's forfeit, but the prevailing order, to which it applies, puts Guido's problems back into circulation, in the quality, now, of outdated.


The contradictions of social reality, even if criticized in theory, impose a contradictory existence: each impasse corresponds to a ripple in individual consciousness, forced to make its own a difficulty that it despises. The concession, however, does not dissolve the social impasse, which persists and demands submission again later on.[1] Favored by the power of cinema, Guido does not look for the world; the world seeks him out and parades in front of him, a procession offered by businessmen, employees, actresses, old friends, journalists, all quickly consumed and dismissed. The contradiction between the collective scope and the personalist horizon, in Guido, will erode all personal relationships in an analogous way.

Honey is despised in the voracity of flies; wait for one that is not voracious, which however will not come, because if it does, it will not be the expected one. The social impasse corresponds to a collection of individual conflicts, its images, in whose variety the constancy of the fundamental impossibility appears. It is reality itself that is fixed. This context makes us reconsider psychological fixation, which may not just be a contingent mania, meaningless to generalize. It can match the structure of the real world. In the obsession that sees the same in everything there can be madness, but also sense, a sense that the multiplicity of the world is not a renewal, but a variation of an insurmountable difficulty.

In the biographical perspective, of Guido and memory, this trait manic of reality is linked to the first personal experience of the impasse, which would be the matrix and cause of its later versions. However: without prejudice to being indelible for the individual biography, the detail of the first experience is contingent on the objective impasse, which would weigh in one way or another. Although the antagonism between sexuality and normative life, for Guido, is a mere repetition of the conflict between Saraghina and her mother, the conflict, in turn, is the confirmation of the antagonism, which has a collective reach. One can see that childhood research, seen as the key to adult difficulties, leads to replacing the objective impasse with its contingent manifestation – this is the banality of Guido's concerns.

But one can also see that in his findings the social contradiction lives in detail – this is the horizon of 8½. Personal fixations are the traumatic cipher of the violence that sustains an order of coexistence. They are not symbolic for Guido; they are even fixations, and must be redeemed as such: they are torture and the promise of pleasure, recovering them in their peculiarity would be a liberation. From the film's perspective, however, they have great generality: the church on one side and the strays on the other, childhood in the country, in the big house, full of servant women, and life in the big city, of independent women - these contrasts make up a pattern typical, western range.

Guido actively circulates between the present, memory and fantasy. The passwords are usually visual details, and the origin of the movement is the adult's moment. The matrix of meanings, however, is in the childhood images, whose strength and logical precedence make them the real ballast of Guido's disquiet. The adult's dilemmas appear as a more or less disguised variation of old contradictions, of a fundamental ambiguity: Saraghina is evil but she is good; and the mother and the priests are good but they are evil. The witch, a kind of leonine hippopotamus, driven to the abandoned beaches of the town is ferocious: but she is also the accomplice of all yearnings, for in her cornered ferocity the sensual vindication of happiness that the town expelled and repressed was preserved.

If Saraghina exists, everything is allowed. The scene in which the humiliated monster is transfigured by the dance and the applause of the boys is astonishing with its libertarian power, transforming itself into a lioness and finally into turbulent happiness. But what's good is short-lived: the priests arrive soon and drag the boy to another field, religion, family, school. Guido's mother, a holy lady, is clean, thin and virtuous. She begs her son to behave. Seen close-up, however, she has the spiteful eye. As she wipes the felt tears from her left eyelid, her right eye peers out, hard and accusing.

Then the feeling and the handkerchief pass to the right cheek, change sides with the outraged virtue. The images of the good are contradictory even visually; decadence is the hypocritical but transparent face of authority: thus in the symmetrical composition of feeling and tyranny on a face, in the fragile silhouette of the little mother figure, contradicted by the harshness of the physiognomic details, in the anointed gesture of the priests, who, seen up close, have a face of woman.

The antagonism between Luisa, Guido's wife, and Carla, his lover, reproduces the childhood conflict. Duplication makes the scheme and psychological interest of the plot. In Luisa's civilized and resentful pride echo the cries of shame from the priests and from the mother, as in Carla's eloquent and petty-bourgeois gesture, obsequiously enjoyable, the diminished freedom promised by Saraghina echoes. The correspondence between the pairs is quite explicit: during a dreamed kiss, Guido transforms his mother into his wife, and in the hotel room he transforms Carla into Saraghina, by painting her eyebrows and asking her to make a sow face. The real is the present, childhood is imaginary; but the clarity is in childhood, of which the real, present, is an intricate reflection.

The visual present is porous, sparking memory and fantasy; it reveals the unresolved, and therefore constant, matrix of childhood. The matrix clarifies, orders the confusion of experience, is able to sustain personal identity through the maelstrom of demands. The unity of the person is based, therefore, on the permanence of impasses, on the weakness. There is pleasure in recurrence, self-realization; life thus gains meaning, albeit unjustifiable, as it is merely connected to repetition. Hence the ambiguous happiness that accompanies the countless déjà vu; it changes the world but it doesn't change me, I'm always the same procrastinator; what confirms me makes me worse, what saves me dissolves me, is hostile. This is the experience that encourages or discourages Guido's research, and makes it so contradictory.[2]

Everything that the eyes see can be a sign of what they have seen and want to model in their imagination. The washerwoman's knees, in the spa, lead to Saraghina's dancing legs; Carlo in the bedroom, Saraghina's version, brings the image of the mother; child password, wing nisi masa, evokes bath time and the childhood bedroom. The images echo: in the harem, Guido waves his hands clasped around his neck as Miss Claudia used to do before going to sleep, to conjure up spirits; and Claudia will be the name of the great star; Guido is carried in towels by his imaginary servants, as in childhood, when he was wrapped in diapers to get out of the bath; the imperious woman, who goes up and down the hotel stairs, has the smile of the statue of the Virgin that Guido saw when he left the confessional, as a child. By force of repetitions and variations, the images begin to reverberate. They demand and provoke a peculiar attitude, of visual attention, committed to glimpsing what you see in what you see; a kind of sensory, available attention, usually reserved for music, not related to moral decisions.

It doesn't matter to take a stand against Luisa or Carla; it is important to rediscover childhood in them, which is also a position. The strictly visual posture does not take sides; finds and associates. Through her Guido is the fruit of the conflicts he got into; he seeks memory and happiness in everything, and that's enough. He thus recreates the privilege of boyhood, when he ran to see Saraghina without knowing or caring about the sin. The purity of the child's world, however, which is Guido's fascination, is not in the absence of contradiction – the mother and the rumbeira were always excluded – but in its ignorance. Although the contradiction existed on an objective level, as the beach and the school existed, it had not yet been internalized, in the form of conscience and commitment.

The adult doesn't see Carla without sensing Luisa's displeasure, and he doesn't see Luisa without feeling, in her slightly antiseptic lightness, Carla's exclusion. The fullness of childhood images corresponds to the fullness with which the boy was on the beach as in the mansion, before knowing that one cost the other. The comparative pallor of images of adult life, on the other hand, corresponds to the sense, present at every turn, of the opposite denied and lost. The identity between autobiographical and aesthetic research has its foundation here: if the child's images are the strongest, it is their research that will produce the best work.

Guido does not, therefore, seek a world in which his conflict is overcome; it is enough to look for a phase of his life, or a posture, in which he is not affected by the contradiction, which however must be clear and vigorous, and must always nibble on him. He seeks harmless repetition, but not overcoming. The childhood possibility of aligning with the two sides of the contradiction, of not choosing between loved ones, is your envy. This is what he tries to recover by reducing the world to the visual dimension: reduced, the world becomes full again; less is more, as images do not actively negate each other, even if contradictory they can coexist. Destruction is at the level of living deeds, the logic of situations.

Guido prefers to see only. Now, exemption in the midst of contradictions is something for a hermit or a privilege. In principle, the world could put aside those who don't care about it. Guido, however, abstains from a position of strength, of a filmmaker. The world comes looking for him instead of forsaking him. There is privilege, even the fine privilege of not respecting, at least visually, social privileges or repressive norms. The contemplative posture – the eyes seek their pleasure wherever it is – presupposes a satisfactory republic, which does not exist.

The proof is that the body is not allowed the active and plentiful polygamy allowed to the eyes, whose natural democratism, whose immediate capacity for interest and sympathy do not, in turn, overturn social differences. The eyes are progressive while the body still obeys retrograde legislation. Guido's stance is ambiguous; he vacillates between criticism and complacency, because if he was born out of retirement, he is more or less well in retirement and enjoys the spectacle from which he withdrew. Evasion solves nothing, but it signals an impasse and a yearning that are real. It is symbolic resistance, albeit devious and humorous; a mixed consciousness, aware that its insurmountable conflicts are not insurmountable, and that they don't count for much.


The search for the right image is central to the film, it is necessary to interpret it. It is a theme through Guido's visual obsessions, and a technical assumption of the plot, since the illusion of an immediate and rich experience, inaccessible to artistic reproduction, must be created. 8½ is a stunning visual beauty. The images it presents, pursued by Guido, radiate happiness and melancholy in a mixture – their richness is the most immediate presence for those who see it, but it is also the most intangible to the concept, as it is not directly linked to the plot and dialogue, although it is its essential context. The happy image is an encrypted utopia.

Guido and 8½, each in their own way, converge in that quest: to make people appear according to their nature; give them reason until they flourish uninhibited. The images touched by poetry are placed, the figures seem to be purposefully what are. This is the key to your breath. In his visions, Guido seems to tease the figures, to encourage them to blossom. We remember the scene with Carla, on the terrace of the spa. When she notices her wife standing next to Guido, the suburban lover expands on intuitions of cosmopolitanism, enacts a splendid ritual of discretion; family despite the excessive skins, terrified by the situation, but flattered too, a little hallucinated by the high-end spa and above all finding the sacrifice of being a lady alone in the park sublime, she hides in a corner, very visible.

The scene continues in Guido's fantasy, who, behind his dark glasses, visualizes Carla singing, generous, stretched out and moved like a giraffe howling at the moon, unhappy but happy because she is loved from a distance, lonely and harassed like an operetta violinist. Vision realizes what reality calls forth. Through accentuated empathy, what would have been thoughtless is transformed into a conscious strategy. Staging herself, Carla is no longer her own vulgar limit; her vulgarity is a graceful stylization she chose. The romanticism of a radio soap opera, exalted but prudent, by Margarida Gauthier within the limits of practicability, becomes irony in the midst of mastered difficulties. The image's euphoria, its utopian ease, comes from the ostensible ease within social engagements.

Guido's imagination saves Carla from real contradictions and the limitations of common sense, it's a stage where she doesn't answer for what she does. In this context, the imbecile sentimentality of the image – what's the use of modest and wonderful singing, when the wife is in front, huffing and puffing? – goes through a surprising transformation: in the unreal world, where one does not become abject due to the humiliation to which it corresponds, the will to please translates only the will to be and to make happy. Freed from its practical consequence by fantasy, the two sides of the contradiction become positive, they do not call for mutual exclusion.

Carla feels sublime and excusing at the same time, which in image it is twice as good: once because it is fair to satisfy oneself, and once because it is fun to circumvent hostile institutions. In one as in another valid pretensions are agitated. In reality, however, which belongs to the wife, and the laws, and is forced, the opposite happens: because she satisfies her and Guido's whims, Carla will be more a whore than a sublime one; and also in discretion there would be less happy complicity than fear and hurt. Luisa, the wife, fulminates Carla, the lover. The contradictory yearnings, which were happy one by one, make up the injured person when they are bundled in their practical consequence. Giving Carla what is Carla's, even if she cannot support it – that is the beauty of the image – and not giving Luisa what is hers; and vice versa. It is not possible to justify the two, except in image, as it feeds on mutual negation. It can already be seen that happiness lies in isolated visions, good in themselves, and that in the plot, in the dimension of consequences and responsibility, there is disaster.

Guido has a soft spot for weakness. He sees in her the desire that will not be redeemed, that is not strength only because of the force of circumstances. The love of the instant is the fear of its continuation. The image harbors possibilities that the plot is unaware of, and resists being framed in it; it is for him, who disposes of it, as a personal desire for the march of society: it is a subversive cell, whose wealth, without any use for the plot, breathes lamentation and protest against the compulsory simplicity of what will happen to it. It could be the starting point of a new plot, of a world that did justice to what the old plot discarded.

Constructed against the hostile plot, the happy image is the imaginary germ of another order of things. Perfection flows over existence and incites hope; in the fantastical atmosphere of the film, happiness could spread like an itch. Hence the astonishing power of these images. Guido, however, does not want to revolutionize the world, not even in his imagination. He wants to heal certain pains, but not forever or completely, as he would lose the pleasure of healing. Hence the scoundrel melancholy that accompanies his little visual revolutions; they are not serious.

And there is another sadness, too, this irremissible and heavy one: Guido wants his characters to be happy, but here and now, without transforming, because transformed would no longer be the ones you want well. He doesn't want revolution, he wants redemption. He wants the characters to be, but not as they are: happy, they would be free of their contradiction, and would not be who they are now; being as they are, they would not be happy. The course is contradictory: to give happiness it is necessary to suspend the contradiction that makes unhappy, which suspends, however, the individuality for the sake of which the contradiction was suspended. In Guido's perspective, the happy image is not true, and the true image is unhappy.

In terms of dramatic logic: it is not all of Luisa who drives away Carla, nor would it be the other way around. To fight, rivals should specialize one in being a lover and the other in being a wife, to the detriment of the most they could give. The institutional impasse weighs on the image, figures cannot fully coexist if they respect their social context. Retained by contemplation, however, they overflow. Overflowing, they suggest new plots or richer destinations. But Guido accepts the suggestions only halfway; for the personalist director, the role of fantasy is ambiguous: it must recover the integrity that life damages, but it doesn't matter whether beyond or within the conflict.

The longing for fullness is less than the phobia for the sadness of visual imperfection. The criterion is not the demands of the world, but the serenity of the filmmaker. There are two ways, therefore, in the composition of the happy image: one, triumphal, in which the character overcomes what limits him, reaching wholeness; in the other, humiliating for the object, personal vanity is adjusted to the actual situation so as not to differ from it; therefore cancelled. In both cases, antagonistic, harmony results for contemplation. In the visual retreat the most generous benevolence and cruelty are not excluded.

The happiness and correctness of the images come from their unreality. They deny, sublimate, overcome real conflicts, allow a glimpse of freedom in the body even of those who are imprisoned. The reality unhappy it is their reference, outside which they have no meaning. They have no autonomy. To Guido's despair, they do not compose a story, although they are part of the story of a director who, through them, cannot compose a story. The best example is Claudia. In criticizing Guido's screenplay, the skinny literati claims that she is the most musty of the musty clichés that make up the future film; Yes, you're right. However, she is one of the most beautiful images in the present film. How to explain? Taken by itself, indeed, she would be a silly fairy. But its context is the fantasy of Guido, slightly weakened and frail, recovering his liver in the spa.

Seen through tired nerves, her white image as a nurse of souls and the body is medicinal. The glass of water, coming from her hand, is like the fountain of new life. Her step is light and steady like the ecstatic sweetness of her smile. Ah, effortless constancy. The body is full, but the feet are soft, barefoot on the grass. Oh, weight that doesn't hurt. Claudia advances as if she were drinking the breeze, her hands a little behind, suggesting that she is going to fly. Ah, dream, don't fly already. Needs to be seen twice: like the white and white heron, girl grown up among objects of old beauty, purity and solution in Guido's film, and as the silent and soothing counter-image of disorder, dark circles, noise. It is Guido's presence that brings the buzzword to life. Claudia cannot act, she has no continuity in the imaginary world; her substance is Guido's instant. She is like his poem. But poems do not make up a novel.

To take the side of inconsistency, of the image against the plot, of the instant against its consequence, is to take the side of irresponsibility; but it is also the side of pretensions inhibited or trampled underfoot by the coherence that is in power. This ambiguity is Guido's limit, his failure as a director, his interest as a character. There is no realism in his attitude, as coherence will prevail; but there is sense in his defeat. An elegiac atmosphere results, of lamentation over possible happiness, over the possibilities that the situation leaves, but does not allow to thrive. Paradoxically, Guido's impotence conveys, through the irritation it causes us, the precise sense that the order of life is obsolete; consciousness and material means, everything seems at hand to modify it.


The happy image, constructed for personal healing, is born from a simple operation: it transforms what is destiny into an option, into disguise what is a scar, and thus makes the mark of social coercion disappear. It nullifies the difference between purpose and existence. It creates a happy and fraternal world, whose purpose is to do Guido good, not to annoy him. It's like a socialist republic of which he was the king. The images of peace are images of violence, as they cancel others in order to pacify them. The fantasy of the reconciled dance between wife and mistress is an example; it gives Guido pleasure, but it is possible only because Luisa has been emptied.

Guido's generosity is generous with himself, and brutal with the characters. The disparity between affection and impertinence culminates when Guido transforms the woman into a beautiful bustling maid, who runs her bath and brushes the floor of her harem. The conciliations are all mandated, the work of Guido's imaginary omnipotence; they don't solve anything, they don't go through the interior of the characters and their conflicts. It is not by chance that the great final pacification takes place in a ciranda. The parents and the son, the priests and the rumbeira, the wife and the lover, the actors and their director, all join hands in a fraternal dance, without, however, resolving a single difference between them.

The image of the pacified farandole has three sides: for Guido it is happy, as it suspends his most painful contradictions and allows for a conciliation, illusory, by the sentimental overflow; for the characters it is an outrage, as each one's own is set aside, for the sake of Guido's peace; for the spectator, it is touching and irritating, because although it addresses a real pain, it does not go beyond it – due to the illusion it creates, it closes a circle of recurrence. Guido goes through what he goes through without learning, in the end he is at the same point where he started. He wants, by force, to take contradictions as if they were harmony, to retain the world as it is; so as not to lose anything, he overcomes nothing, so as not to lie to himself, or even to Carla and Luisa, he lies to the three of them.

Guido walks in a circle. The horizon of 8½ and the viewer, however, is not yours, it is bigger. Hence, the conflict is not tragic, which has more inertia than necessity. Guido's inertia, however, provokes a very strong reaction, apparently disproportionate. Carla is also married, Luisa is also flirting. However, the situation of the two is incomparable to that of Guido, whose complacency strikes and scandalizes them as decisive. For what reason? Usually, finding a private and secret solution to collective impasses, which are therefore inevitable, is a sign of knowing how to live. Except when the personal solution can have public reach, suspending the impasse that made individual ingenuity and secrecy necessary. Failure to publish it then becomes conformism, and what is more, it becomes ridicule, as it produces an already unnecessary prudence.

Although it is palpable from experience, the anachronism in Guido's impasses is difficult to locate. Why aren't a man's obsessions, his commitments between his wife and his mistress valid? What is the context that takes their weight off? Guido is not simply a man; he is a filmmaker. Cinema, with the atmosphere that surrounds it, introduces a practical constellation for which bourgeois conflicts are a dead letter. However strong the sense of this may be, this is not easy to prove, since it is about the effective horizon, but never made explicit, of 8½ and our culture. The signs of the new world are barely discernible, although always enough to make the permanence of the old world poignant and obsolete.

We are not interested here in the abstract argument against individualist society; We looked for the images and situations whose mere presence, in the film, was enough to make Guido's commitments obsolete. On his walk through the hot springs, the filmmaker sees a vertiginous succession of extraordinary, imperious and original faces. The sequence is not only due to the perspicacity of his trained eye, which he knows how to see, but to the exhibitionism that his profession arouses. Hence the trip sped up and sped around it.

Glimpsed by all in the director's attention, the cinema camera represents a new stage of technique, it suggests new ways of living together. It mobilizes impulses like the one that makes a fan jump, so that viewers in the city become aware of his face. Not that he thinks he's beautiful, but he wants to be seen. The cinema camera has a curious power, which must be interpreted: it makes people proud of being who they are.[3] Before the impersonal eye, at the same time as universal in scope, grimaces and intimacies are shown that normally are carefully hidden.

What is shame or handicap seen by few, gains dignity of national heritage when we are all the public. What is exposed flank in a particularist and antagonistic perspective, is personal peculiarity, daring, curious trait in the human collection as soon as the point of view is collective. It's as if people said: look what an interesting mole this is; or, look how ugly my foot is; or, look how fat or skinny I am. It can already be seen that cinema stirs up, on a full scale, the liberation that Guido undertakes with refinement, as proof of personal talent and in favor of those who are dear to him. The reach of the technique escapes Guido, who dismisses its virtualities that belong to culture as benevolence. Therein lies the convergence as well as the divergence between 8'' and Guido.

There are gestures that can only be done when alone – Guido's childishness, in the bathroom and in the hallway – or in front of the camera, which will show the gesture to everyone. In this paradox is encoded the utopian breath of cinema. The film, due to its mechanical impartiality and the social circulation it has, creates or helps to create a universality that is not only theoretical, but practical; there can be full publicity of everything. It represents a technical stage in which secrets and, therefore, organized antagonism are only artfully maintained.

It frees the individual from his particular position in society, from his restricted and restrictive coexistence, to give him the whole of social life as his sphere. It's not just an extension. It is the very axis of conviviality that moves. The collective reference raises the faculties that the immediate conflict smothers. The cinematographic eye is a special confessional: the listener is not an authoritarian priest, but the nation in its moments of curiosity and leisure; everything that amuses and does not disturb deserves absolution, that is, license.

Before the universal eye of science, before the concrete universalizer that are the mass media, personal peculiarities cease to be a secret weakness and a sign of inhumanity – which they have always been in the entire competitive context – just as social contradictions cease to be a natural and insurmountable fact. The cinema, psychoanalysis, sociology, close coexistence in the big city, these perspectives make unsustainable the bourgeois fiction of human nature, of society composed of proprietary, competitive and monogamous animals. In these circumstances, which are those of the film, the persistence of the traditional order of life is particularly painful.. It leads to the generalization of bad faith, and to the birth of new forms of it.

Luisa, seeing Carla in the park, tells Guido: “What infuriates me the most is thinking that that cow knows everything about us”. Then she explodes, in a low voice because she's civil: "Whore!" Soon after, she apologizes for playing the bourgeoisie. Her fury is complex: does “knowing everything”, in this case, mean knowing extraordinary things? Not at all. Luisa's violence more pretends than she defends a precious intimacy, in good part it is indignation at the non-existence of what she intends to protect. The recognition of equality is implicit in the painful ferocity with which she asserts her difference. Luisa is aware of the variety of desires and no longer recognizes the authority of traditional prohibitions; intellectually she has no reason to revolt.

Theoretical criticism, however, does not rule out the practical contradiction. The prolonged coexistence of the two, in turn, burns the nerves. Luisa tells Guido that he “lies like he breathes”, which is also true for her and for everyone who lives in her situation – if lying to yourself is included among the lies. A new type of physiognomy is born, corresponding specifically to this constellation: the physiognomy of the intellectual, of the man aware and jealous of his contradictions. As far as I know, it was put on canvas by Fellini and Antonioni for the first time. His face is worn down, but not from physical exertion, so he has youthful features, which are not happy; it is free and expressive at times, although in general it seems trapped, not by stupidity, but by the soon manic awareness of its own contradictions; there is weakness, but not decay, because the effort to seek the truth, to live a life more or less right, is constant.

Directed against Guido, but also against himself, the tense mixture of contempt, pity and fury forms an appalling rictus around Luisa's mouth her pained, conscious and destructive face is an emblem, as true to the film as the smile of Guido, generous, complacent and depressive. The world has the faces it can have.

Guido sees but does not hear, hidden behind his dark glasses. Oblivious to the conversation and the problems that appear in it, he composes his happy world. The others hear, but do not see: immersed in their issues, they do not admit that there is a world outside them. This is the context that gives richness and truth to the schematism of the great final scenes. The ciranda of happiness, in which universal fraternity and the purity of white figures are recovered, would be sentimentality if it were part, if presented as a solution. Being unreal, however, only vision, it is right that it should be triumphant, since it reconciles painful contradictions. Being triumphal and unrealistic, it is tinged with melancholy and has a beauty touched by the improbable. Your lie is your truth, euphoria and tight throat: the apotheosis becomes a sign of your own absence.

* Robert Schwarz is a retired professor of literary theory at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of whatever (Publisher 34).

Originally published, under the title “The lost boy and the industry”, in literary supplement from the newspaper The State of S. PaulIn 1964.


8'' (Eight and a half)
Italy, 1963, 138 minutes
Directed by: Federico Fellini
Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimée, Sandra Milo


[1] In his essay on The elective affinities, Walter Benjamin comments on Goethe’s resistance to marriage: “Upon realizing the tremendous demand of the forces of myth, reconcilable only through the constancy of sacrifice, Goethe rebelled”, in Writings, Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt a. M., 1955, p. 99.

[2] “He feels that by living he impedes his own way. But in this impediment, on the other hand, he finds proof that he lives ”, F. Kafka,“ He ”, in Description of a fight.

[3] “The capitalist industrialization of cinema bars contemporary man’s right to see himself reproduced”, Walter Benjamin, The work of art at the time of its technical reproduction.

See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Impasses and solutions for the political momentjose dirceu 12/06/2024 By JOSÉ DIRCEU: The development program must be the basis of a political commitment from the democratic front
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • Introduction to “Capital” by Karl Marxred triangular culture 02/06/2024 By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO: Commentary on the book by Michael Heinrich
  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis
  • The strike at federal Universities and Institutescorridor glazing 01/06/2024 By ROBERTO LEHER: The government disconnects from its effective social base by removing those who fought against Jair Bolsonaro from the political table
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives
  • PEC-65: independence or patrimonialism in the Central Bank?Campos Neto Trojan Horse 17/06/2024 By PEDRO PAULO ZAHLUTH BASTOS: What Roberto Campos Neto proposes is the constitutional amendment of free lunch for the future elite of the Central Bank