Part Of The Picture: Escape… and Capture

Posted on June 4, 2010



JUN 5, 2010 – FOR A FILM CHOCKFULL OF SURREAL SET PIECES (or, perhaps, for a director whose films seem but an excuse for surreal set pieces), it’s entirely unsurprising that the opening is one too. The story is about a director (Guido, played by Marcello Mastroianni) who doesn’t know what to film next. He’s writer-blocked, unable to move ahead, and in the first scene, he’s blocked in a traffic jam, literally unable to move ahead. The camera pans over stalled vehicles as far as the eye can see. Guido glances left, towards the back seat of a car, and sights a gent in a beret and a pencil moustache. The man turns and looks ahead, at a woman who appears to have fallen asleep at the wheel. Their car, interestingly, is headed in the opposite direction. Guido is hemmed in from everywhere. The camera returns to the pencil-moustached man, and back to Guido, whose hand locates a wipe-cloth. He cleans the windshield. So far, we’ve only seen Guido from behind. We are yet to see his face.

The so-far-silent stretch starts to choke with its first sounds. Gas fills the car and Guido begins to gasp. Outside, everyone is staring at him, though no one shows the slightest inclination of actually helping him – even the row of hands hanging out from a bus are still. Guido’s problem is his, and his alone. He presses against a door which doesn’t open. He reaches for the other side, his palms plastered squeakily on the window pane. His gasps increasing in panic, he bangs on the window. A man in a nearby car just looks on, his face a frozen mask. Meanwhile, in another neighbouring car, a man with a cigarette stuck in his mouth strokes the arm of the woman beside him, who shows signs of arousal. They, probably, aren’t even aware that there’s a problem outside, that Guido’s legs are pressing against the window in a futile attempt to escape asphyxiation – so wrapped in their own lives are they.

But somehow – and the point is that we don’t exactly see how; the creative processes, after all, cannot be explained – he clambers out to the roof of his car. With the others watching silently and with his arms outstretched, Guido begins to glide out of the tunnel, over the roofs of other cars. His clothes whip about him, from the wind, which steers him higher and higher, towards clouds, towards the sun. Guido, finally, has escaped. But on the ground, on a beachfront, as a man arrives on horseback, another man mumbles, “Counselor, I’ve got him!” He begins to tug at a rope. “Down! You come down!” Earth beckons. The practicality of making a movie (into which heavy investments have been poured) beckons. Escape is not an option. We look down at earth, at reality, from Guido’s point of view, the other end of the rope looped around his feet. He comes crashing down just as he wakens from his nightmare. And we still haven’t seen his face.

8½ (1963, Italian, English, French German; aka Federico Fellini’s 8½). Directed by Federico Fellini. Starring Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimée, Sandra Milo.

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Posted in: Cinema: Foreign