Fellini’s 8½: Dreams, guilt, casting and ‘the code of codes’ of the cinematographic image

Sandra Meiri, Odeya Kohen Raz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article argues that Guido’s two dreams in Federico Fellini’s 8½ reflect guilt stemming from his inability to meet his mother’s expectations to remain chaste and pure. This is a faulty belief based on an early childhood memory representing Guido’s mixed feelings of sexual exaltation and shame, resulting in fantasies that attempt to solve the riddle of his mother’s desire. The film thus raises the question of fantasy ‘what does the Other want from me?’ and shows that assuming to know the answer involves guilt, stagnation and indecisiveness. This becomes evident in the screentests scene near the end of the film, when Guido cannot decide which actresses will play the roles of the characters duplicating the women in his life. The screen tests are ‘textual mise en abymes’, reflecting not only Guido’s life but also the basic code of the medium, i.e., the cinematographic image: reproduction, which precedes the cinematic language, is composed of a denotative code (a referent – the actor in front of the camera) and a connotative code (cultural, including film iconography). Film can thus materialize fantasy through casting, which involves a level of concretization, by predicting what the audience wants. Therefore, guilt is an inherent part of the cinematographic image. Where Guido fails in choosing the ‘right’ actresses, because of his guilt, Fellini, having worked through his own guilt, thrives. This suggests that setting free the filmmaker’s imagination and creative forces depends on ridding oneself of the guilt inherent in the translation of an image from fantasy to film.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-21
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Italian Cinema and Media Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Intellect Ltd Article. English language.


  • Artistic freedom
  • Casting
  • Cinematographic code
  • Desire
  • Dream
  • Fantasy
  • Federico Fellini’s 8½
  • Guilt


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