Juliet of the Spirits (Giulietta delgi spiriti) [DVD]
Screenplay : Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano, and Brunello Rondi
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1965
Stars : Giulietta Masina (Juliet), Alba Cancellieri (Juliet as a Child), Mario Pisu (Giorgio), Caterina Boratto (Juliet's Mother), Luisa Della Noce (Adele), Sylva Koscina (Sylva)
After the masterpieces La Dolce Vita (1960) and 8 1/2 (1963), which found Federico Fellini moving deeper and deeper into his twin cinematic obsessions—autobiography and phantasmagoria—he directed Juliet of the Spirits (Giulietta delgi spiriti), a would-be feminist parable about an insecure Roman housewife who sinks deeper and deeper into her fantasy life when she at first fears and then confirms her husband's infidelity. Ostensibly a film about the deepest recesses of the female psyche, Juliet of the Spirits never quite catches hold because it too often feels like a man trying to probe those recesses only to fall back on his own fantasies.
As with his earlier films, Juliet of the Spirits has a deeply autobiographical component (most obvious in Fellini's use of several of his actors' first names for their characters). The central character, Juliet (Giulietta in Italian), was played by Fellini's wife of 20 years, Giulietta Masina, who had also had central roles in several of his earlier films, most notably La Strada (1954) and Nights of the Cabiria (1957). Masina is slight and petite, pretty, but not extraordinary, and she fills the role of Juliet perfectly. Juliet plays the dutiful housewife for her husband, Giorgio (Mario Pisu), who has been read by many as an obvious Fellini surrogate. Of course, in many ways, Juliet is also a Fellini surrogate, so his presence throughout the film is almost indomitable.
Trouble is in the air from the very beginning, when Giorgio forgets his 15th wedding anniversary. Juliet also catches him speaking with someone on the phone in a familiar way that makes his excuse that he was phoning for a wake-up call less than believable. Propelled by her doubts and insecurities, Juliet begins to move into a fantasy world of memories and dreams and desires, which is what Fellini is really most interested in. There is a tension throughout the film, where part of Fellini wants to stay within the everyday walls of the idle rich for the sake of social commentary, but the other part constantly wants to tear free and indulge fully in the sensualist extravaganza of his fantastical imagery (he would finally do this in his next film, 1969's Fellini Satyricon, which is all visual extravagance).
Juliet of the Spirits was Fellini's first film to be shot in color, and he and cinematographer Gianni di Venanzo (8 1/2) use the gaudy Technicolor palette to the fullest extent, filling the screen with primary colors and strong contrasts. There is nothing subtle or particularly painterly about it—Fellini seems most interested in overwhelming the audience with color. This results in some memorable imagery, but it also feels indulgent and somewhat silly, like a child with his first box of crayons. Perhaps so many years of making black-and-white films had built up in Fellini an urge to explode the monochrome screen with pigment, which is exactly what he does here.
Still, despite Fellini's indulgences, much of the film works largely due to Giulietta Masina's fine performance. The script doesn't give Masina much to do (Juliet is essentially a witness to her own fantasies), but she makes the most of it, perhaps channeling some of her real-life marital tension with Fellini into the role. Even if the film is from a decidedly male point-of-view despite its intentions otherwise, Masina grounds the story by creating a generally likable and plausible woman, one who has dedicated herself to her husband only to find that everything she thought she was right may be wrong. This is also compounded by a constant intrusion of the supernatural into her humdrum everyday existence, via seances and, at one point, advice from an androgynous medium (both Fellini and Masina believed in the supernatural, so there is an air of genuineness to the whole film, despite the sometimes outrageous situations).
It is of little surprise that Juliet finds herself drawn to her libertine next-door neighbor, Sylva (Sylva Koscina, who was often rumored to be Fellini's mistress), a voluptuous blonde who indulges her hedonism in a bedroom that includes a slide leading directly into a swimming pool beneath. If Fellini had previously maintained a distinction between the real and the fantastical, in Sylva that distinction becomes blurred, as her sensualist existence reaches levels of smile-inducing absurdity. Yet, she represents everything that Juliet is not and perhaps wishes to be, and the difference between them makes for a striking contrast.
In the end, though, Juliet of the Spirits is more enjoyable for what it shows than for what it has to say. Fellini fails thematically, but his eye for turning human desires and fears and memories into fully embodied cinematic imagery remains strong. The dream and fantasy imagery is outlandish and portentously symbolic, and you can choose to read into its Freudian details or simply let it wash over you. Either way, it has roughly the same effect, which is certainly "Felliniesque," as that term is popularly used to suggest the sublime and the bizarrely beautiful, but not nearly as moving or as relevant as Fellini would like to think it is.
|Juliet of the Spirits Criterion Collection DVD|
|Audio||Dolby Digital 1.0 monaural|
|Supplements|| Familiar Spirits 21-minute BBC program on Federico Fellini|
Original theatrical trailer
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection / Home Vision Entertainment|
|Release Date||March 12, 2002|
|As part of its Cinema Forever project, the Italian communications and broadcasting company Mediaset restored Juliet of the Spirits from the original camera negative for a limited theatrical release last year. The stunning new anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer on this Criterion disc was made from a 35mm interpositive struck from the restored negative. With the exception of only a few instances of slight fading, the Technicolor palette jumps off the screen in all its bold glory, just as Fellini intended. The image is remarkably smooth and nearly blemish-free, and black levels are deep and rich with excellent shadow detail. This is an impressive transfer for a film that is going on 40 years in age.|
|The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack, which was mastered from a 35mm magnetic audio track, is clear and hiss-free, although Nino Rota's jaunty score sounds unavoidably restricted given the one-channel source.|
|In addition to the original theatrical trailer presented in anamorphic widescreen, this disc includes a rare treat: Familiar Spirits, a 21-minute BBC-produced special on Federico Fellini that includes an extensive interview with the director by Ian Dallas, who had bit roles in both 8 1/2 and Juliet of the Spirits. Aired in 1966 and shot in black and white, it also features interviews with a handful of Fellini's contemporaries and offers a fascinating glimpse into Fellini's working methods (including a rather extensive discussion of his having taken LSD as part of working on Juliet of the Spirits).|
Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick