Monday, February 20, 2017

Juliet of the Spirits

Giulietta degli spiriti; fantasy comedy, Italy / France, 1965; D: Federico Fellini, S: Giulietta Masina, Sandra Milo, Mario Pisu, Valentina Cortese

Giulietta is a middle-aged woman seemingly happily married to Giorgio. The two of them live in a mansion with maids. During their wedding anniversary, one of the guests, a medium, performs a spiritual seance with everyone, calling upon ghosts. Later, Giuletta suspects Giorgio is cheating on her and hires a private detective to spy on her husband. Unfortunately for her, the inspector indeed confirms that Giorgio is having an affair with a younger woman, a model. The voice of the ghosts invites Giulietta to hang out with promiscuous Suzy and have an affair herself at her party. However, just as she was about to have an affair with a man, she hears another voice of the spirits that change her mind. One of the spirits may be her high school friend who drowned herself. Upon banishing the spirits, Giulietta seems to find peace with herself.

Federico Fellini's 9th feature length film, his first picture in color, "Juliet of the Spirits" is a patchwork that belongs in the second phase of his career, where the director abandoned the classical narration and instead focused on surreal images, non-linear narration and his own feelings when crafting scenes that evoke the subconscious. Except for the excellent "Amarcord", and to a lesser extent "8 1/2", which was walking on "thin ice", this did not amount to much, at least compared to the fantastic films Fellini directed previously. "Juliet" is basically an allegorical, psychological exploration of the title heroine who tries to cope with the realisation that her husband, Giorgio, is cheating on her (in one memorable scene, she says to Suzy: "He became my whole world: a lover, a husband, a friend."), and it is an elegant, yet strangely slow film, losing its potentials in Fellini's overlong, ponderous symbolic sequences of the spirits which are, truth be told, not quite as meaningful as some would have loved them to be, whereas his tendency to constantly force circus and carnival motives seems out of place. Also, one must complain that Giulietta Masina is not even 10% as charming as were her unforgettable roles in Fellini's masterworks "Nights of Cabiria" and, especially, "The Road", which had her in one of the greatest roles of the 20th Century cinema. Still, Fellini's iconography still causes awe, and at least two sequences are a small gem: one is when Giulietta remembers how she played a Christian who was about to get burned in the Roman Empire when she was a 10-year old in a school play, but it was interrupted when her grandfather came to the stage and demanded them all to stop, protesting that such serious topics are not suitable for children; and the other is when the Spanish guest thanks Giulietta for a lovely evening ("But it was only one moment." - "Sometimes, one moment can mean everything!"). There are clashes of visions, regrets and memories, yet the storyline is still less a true of an insight into the human spirit.


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