Often regarded as ‘the filmmaker’s film’ and with filmmaking as its subject, it is apt then that the British Film Institute is bringing back a beautifully restored Fellini’s 8 ½ (Otto e Mezzo) to the silver screen at the BFI Southbank this May. While you might take from this accolade that the film itself could be a little too obtusely focused on cinematic in jokes, the fact that the film is a frequent favourite on ‘greatest films ever’ lists (it even came third in a poll conducted by the BFI of the ‘50 greatest films of all time’) should put your mind at ease. And though Fellini’s La Dolce Vita generally tops most people’s favourite films by the writer/director, 8 ½ sits in that special place between the real and the surreal that is not only occupied by filmmaking but best explains life as well. Originally released in 1963, the film won almost universal acclaim as well as two Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language film and costume design.

Guido Anselmi (Mastroianni) a well known film director, is faced with the daunting task of making a film to follow up on a recent hit and is struggling with both creative and inner demons. As he juggles the people in his real life and ideal notions revealed in a series of flashbacks to his childhood of what life and in particular women should be, he must ultimately accept his own inner truth if the film is to succeed. The film itself is almost autobiographical with glimpses into Fellini’s creative process and fantastical reminiscences from his childhood but it is also a darkly humorous satire on the pressures of the industry at the time (though perhaps even more relevant today). And as Guido battles through the various internal and outward obstacles preventing him from realising his film, it is Mastroianni’s delicate and charm fuelled handling of the self-centred adulterous director that allows a sympathetic reaction from the audience. There is also a rare sense of cohesion despite the film’s fragmentary nature which is lent to it through the striking black and white cinematography by Gianni Di Venanzo and Nina Rota’s astute score.

8 1/2 is a heaving monster of a film about life and art, relationships and the psyche and all centred around the crazy circus like world that is film. And yet despite its potentially heavy topics, the film itself is unapologetic and unencumbered perhaps because of the humour that runs through it. Famously, when shooting began Fellini took “a little piece of brown paper tape” and stuck it near the viewfinder of the camera and wrote on it Ricordati che è un film comico (“Remember that this is a comic film”). Darkly funny, brilliantly acted and with stunning cinematography bridging the gap between spectacle and the sublime, there is no doubt that this film must be seen on the big screen. Do not miss this rare opportunity to do so.