Cinema: Director on the Couch

8½—the opus-number title of Federico Fellini's new film—is self-psychoanalysis in search of an answer. Fellini, who made La Dolce Vita, has a singular personal problem: why is he so preoccupied with making movies that speak of the emptiness of life? He gets his answer, but unless Fellini's problem has been preying on the mind of the viewer, he may not care to take on the director's doubts and confusions.

The cinematic catharsis is performed on two levels. The ostensible story tells of a director (Marcello Mastroianni) who has made a commitment to do...

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