Cast: Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Anouk Aimee, Sandra Milo
Oscar Wins: Best Foreign Language Film (Italy), Best Costume Design,Black-and-White (Piero Gheradi)
Oscar Nominations: Best Director (Federico Fellini), Best Original Screenplay (Federico Fellini, Ennio Flaiano, Tullio Pinelli, Brunello Rondi), Best Art Direction, Black-and-White (Piero Gheradi)
SUMMARY: Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) is a famous Italian movie director who is preparing to shoot his new movie, which he has also written. However, the pressures of fame and his failing marriage have caused Guido to have a near-breakdown, and halted his work. His producer pays for Guido to stay at a spa, but insists that the film continue. To help him clarify his film script Guido brings in a film critic, whom he uses as a sounding board. The critic rejects most of the ideas as weak, confusing and egotistical. Further problems arrive when Guido’s mistress, Carla (Sandra Milo), shows up at the spa to see him. The producer is determined to start filming, so the entire crew moves to Guido’s hotel. However, he continues to have trouble writing a cohesive, interesting script, and uses various techniques to dodge the producer, press and even his actresses. Periodically, he flashes back to moments of his childhood, including one where he danced on the beach with a prostitute, then got into trouble at his Catholic school. He proposes using these ideas in the film, but the critic hates them as well. Guido’s fame gets him an audience with the Cardinal, but even this man does not provide any useful advice.
Guido decides to invite his wife, Luisa (Anouk Aimee), and a few of her friends to the set. Guido’s lifestyle, not to mention his frequent cheating, have severely strained their marriage. He seems to have a better relationship (though strictly platonic) with Luisa’s best friend Rosella, who serves as a sort of confidant. He tells Rosella that he wanted to make an honest movie, but can’t find anything honest to say. One morning, Guido, Luisa and Rosella are eating outside their hotel when Carla shows up. Guido claims that he and Carla’s affair ended three years earlier, but neither woman is fooled. Guido then has a vision of himself ruling over a harem of women, including Luisa, Carla and Rosella. The women in the harem try to start a rebellion against him, but Guido uses a whip to restore order. Meanwhile, the producer has had enough of Guido’s stalling and organizes a review of all the screen tests already conducted. Luisa and Rosella both come to watch the tests, and realize that Carla and Luisa are actually characters in the movie. While Carla is portrayed as voluptuous and flirty, Luisa is plain and bitter. The real Luisa has had enough, and informs Guido that their marriage is over. Just then, an actress named Claudia (Claudia Cardinale) shows up, and Guido decides to cast her. He tells her that the film is about a disillusioned man who finds renewed hope in a woman. Claudia informs him that audiences will not like the film, because the man is incapable of love and they will not relate to him. Guido tries to call off the whole movie, but the producer refuses to quit. He calls a press conference on the set, which Guido eventually escapes by shooting himself in the head. This final does serve to cancel the movie, and the critic tells Guido that it was the best decision. Guido realizes that he needs to come to terms with his own life before making such a movie, and asks Luisa to help him. As the film ends, a group of clowns parade around the set, eventually joined by the various people in Guido’s life.
MY TAKE: Well, I got this one right. I expected it to be somewhat indecipherable, despite its rave reviews, and I was right. The premise is interesting: a man is trying to make a movie while hiding the fact that he really doesn’t have a plan for doing so. His initial script is terrible, and he can’t make decent corrections, but his fame (and his producer) demand that he create something. What’s hard to follow are the switches between reality and fantasy, since there usually aren’t signs or warnings. It’s also sometimes hard to figure out just what is going on, and it’s difficult to explain this. I feel like this is one of those movies that probably has a subliminal meaning, but unfortunately subliminal meanings are totally lost on me. If the story was more straightforward, with less philosophizing and fantasies/flashbacks, I think I would have enjoyed it (and understood it) a lot more.