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By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 26, 1993


Federico Fellini
Marcello Mastroianni;
Anouk Aimee;
Claudia Cardinale;
Barbara Steele;
Sandra Milo
Not rated

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Always feeding directly on his experiences for material, Federico Fellini had an autobiographical binge with "8." The 1963 movie -- which marked eight and a half movies for Fellini (seven solos, three collaborations) -- was the director's unabashed gaze into the mirror.

A vivid interspersing of fantasy and satire, it reflected ironically on Fellini's career -- with Marcello Mastroianni as his alter ego. Its entrancing combination of technical virtuosity and modish psychology won Fellini his third Academy Award for best foreign language film.

Now, repeat-viewers and first timers can view the restored black-and-white classic, with 30 years of available hindsight. Its narcissistic themes -- daringly indulgent then -- now seem commonplace. The movie has been paid homage countless times, most notably in Woody Allen's "Stardust Memories." Yet, you might just warm to that oldtime smoothness, fluidity and la dolce vita lifestyle.

In the story, film director Mastroianni has come to a spa to revive his creativity. His next project is due. His life is beset with collaborators, mistresses and other hangers on. His producer and his writer wait for a concept. Various actresses and starlets -- including then-hot Claudia Cardinale -- wait for their promised parts. And his wife, Anouk Aimee, realizes how far the married couple has drifted apart.

Stumbling through this miasma, Mastroianni begins to examine his life. He's incapable of making sensible choices where people are concerned. He is also continuously haunted by memories from his recent past and his childhood. Mastroianni is increasingly aware he has everything -- and nothing -- to say.

There are so many elements to savor. Mastroianni is an arthouse icon, as he continuously peers over sunglasses to relive memories, then pushes them back up to deal with oppressive reality. As his estranged wife, Aimee is another icon -- unsuccessfully hiding her beauty behind bookish spectacles.

But Fellini's fluid choreography of music and image is the main appeal. In one beautiful scene the camera glides breathtakingly through a steam-room transom to catch a beak-nosed, naked cardinal as he lectures to Mastroianni. "There is no salvation outside the church," says the old man, absurdly imperious behind the modest shroud held up by his attendants. And in one of the movie's many childhood flashbacks, buxom beach resident "Saraghina" does impromptu, erotic rumbas for the young Mastroianni. If "8" seems stuck in the early 1960s, it's only superficially so. Somehow, the movie is more than the dated crisis of a naval-contemplating artist. It's about the inability in all of us to make sense of our lives, put it all together and come up with something meaningful.

"8" (Unrated) In Italian with subtitles.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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