So I…think I may need to revisit this later. Apologies for the long silence – I kept meaning to give this film a rewatch, as I kept feeling I had missed some things, but that may take too long to coordinate; best not to leave you hanging.
The plot I understood just fine. Marcello Mastroianni is “Guido Anselmi”, a renowned Italian filmmaker at work on a sci-fi piece. At least, he’s supposed to be – he’s hit a creative wall, and is unable to finish casting the film or writing the screenplay, to the great consternation of the producers and investors on the project. In an effort to dodge them and concentrate to get some work done, he’s escaped to a tony health spa, dragging a movie critic friend (Jean Rougeul) along to help him with the screenplay.
But that plan blows up when the producer also books the whole rest of the production team there so they’ll be “ready” when Anselmi is. And then the critic hates everything about Anselmi’s existing script. And then Anselmi’s mistress Carla (Sandra Milo) turns up, hoping to either hook up with Anselmi or get a part in the film – or both. Soon after Anselmi’s estranged wife Luisa (Anouk Aimée) also shows up, with some of her friends, to watch the whole show crash and burn. Anselmi is all too happy to procrastinate on the film with either Carla or Luisa, but he keeps fantasizing about an Ideal Woman – and then meets her, in the form of aspiring actress Claudia (Claudia Cardinale) who turns up towards the end. Anselmi begs her to take a part – but Claudia senses that Anselmi has a lot going on in his personal life, and is uncertain; is Anselmi really trying to make a film, or is he just trying to hide from reality?
It’s an interesting enough story – the part that brought me up short is in the telling. Federico Fellini starts to step away from his prior realistic approach here, and includes a lot of sequences hinting at Anselmi’s inner turmoil – dream sequences, memories, sometimes a mix of both. In the opening sequence, Anselmi is flying through the air above a beach until his producers lasso him and pull him back down to earth. In another lengthy sequence, he is back in his father’s country villa, Lord Of The Manor, and overseeing a harem made up of all the women in his life – Luisa, Clara, Claudia, and a number of other lovers and crushes – who fawn over him for several minutes until one woman leads a sort of revolt and they collectively throw him out.
Some viewers were baffled by these sequences, and found it hard to tell which sequences were “really happening” and which were Anselmi’s fantasy. I could usually figure it out – but the whole film was so visually rich, I feel like those sequences were loaded with nuance that might enhance the story even more if I caught it.
I’ll likely put that rewatch off until later, but I am definitely intrigued enough to do so.