This Fellini film has a permanent berth in the top films of all time, specifically the Top Ten of Sight and Sound, which are chosen by a process of voting by many director's and critics. Fellini had completed eight films with one unfinished, hence the title. The film is said to be autobiographical. Guido (Marcello Mastriaonni) is a film director in the process of making a science fiction film in which he has lost interest.
One need not look for a narrative, since even in as much it is there it is not the main point. Guido says somewhere that he wants to make a completely truthful film, and that is what Fellini aims at and in the process structure and plot are bypassed.
He has chosen film making itself as the subject which currently occupies him, as though to say that the subject is only a vehicle for the music that plays inside him. Some of his other films are humanistic essays (The Road and Nights of Cabiria) telling clear tales but now he has left all that behind him and it is human experience, his own, in all its textured and layered complexity which he sets out to capture, a film maker's stream of consciousness. Ebert says Guido is a man without a centre, and so it seems is the real director, but he puts his artistry and command of the medium to portray this very centrelessness in a poem of tight minimalism and structural economy, with the pieces seamlessly merging into each other. Part of it's charm is in the utter effortlessness.
It's a mixture of dreams memories and the realities of the ongoing film making process, with bills to be paid and people to be hired, and prospectors for stardom to be warded off, and the women to be juggled.. There is his wife(Anouk Aimee), his mistress, and his dream woman (Claudia Cardinale). And the film ends with a triumphant, joyful procession of celebration as the movie project finally takes off.
The film is a visual delight, the figures often floating just above the ground. The one I find most inerasable is as the entire cast floats as it criss crosses in slow motion in an open space: women young and old, nuns and priests, a clown and a magician as though mankind itself is on carnival. In the opening dream/reality sequence, Marcello is trapped in a traffic jam, and the score is a furiously beating heart; the car windows won't open and he hammers desperately as he suffocates and then floats into the sky in a kind of out of the body experience, to be finally pulled down to the ground like a kite. The tragicomic and utterly lovable figure of the harlot Saraghina gazes into the sea.
The film is drenched in Nino Rota's musical score. It is in the fusion of the visual poetry with the soaring joy of music that the film touches the sublime. Ebert recently remarked that he could see a Fellini movie on the radio. Click here for Ebert's article on Rota.