As Fellini left behind his Italian neorealism period (1950-1959) and became interested in the work of the psychiatrist Carl Jung, his movies began to be confusing in terms of setting apart reality from the world of fantasy and memories. This is also the case with Otto e mezzo, where Marcello Mastroianni impersonates a renowned director, Guido, who is on the verge of making another successful movie but, as he himself admits, has ‘nothing to say but wants to say it anyway.’ Like Marcello’s previous character in La Dolce Vita, Guido also procrastinates, is exhausted by his erratic habits and longs to do something momentous with his life.
‘Guido! Guido! Guido!’ seems to be a leitmotiv of the movie as Guido is always surrounded by people who are either eager to know details about the movie or rushing him into making decisions regarding the scenario or the distribution. The penultimate scene shows Guido hiding under a table which is projected as a protective cage against the crowd who is fiercely asking for news on the movie – then a gunshot reduces everything to silence. Just as the end, the beginning involves a suffocating atmosphere. The only way to escape from the asphyxiating circumstances seems to be flying towards the sky – a metaphor for his high ambitions and aspirations – but he is soon dragged to the ground by a rope.
As the action moves along his idea of the movie is revealed bit by bit to the public. Symbolical scenes from the movie alternate with memories about his childhood as well as his imaginings of sensuality. The iconic ‘Asa Nisi Masa’ – correspondent of ‘Rosebud’ from Orson Wells’ Citizen Kane – is thought to signify Jung’s idea of the anima. The phrase makes the link between his childhood memories and his desires as an adult.
The central idea revolves around Guido not being able to find his inspiration. Critics blame his movie for lacking problematic ideas and not having an overall sense of purpose. Still, all that he wanted was to make a simple, honest movie, helpful for those who wanted to bury what had died inside them. However, he does not just question his talent but also his perceptions on his feelings, as another character is introduced and their relationship is analysed – his wife.
Nino Rota’s music, cameras following each movement of the actors, and the play of lights and shadows all intertwine into creating the atmosphere of this metaphysical world. A rather curious fact which can be easily noticed is the desynchronization of the sound and the actors’ dialogue. Most of the Italian movies in that time didn’t record sound on the set but post-synchronised it.
Although Gino seems unaware of what he wants to achieve, Fellini knew it precisely. It remains to be seen whether this is just "Un altro film senza speranza" ("Another film without hope").
Corina Motofeanu writes about cinema for The Manchester Magazine. She is a first-year Life Sciences student at the University of Manchester.