Giulietta degli spiriti (1965)

JULIET OF THE SPIRITS (Giulietta degli spiriti)

(director/writer: Federico Fellini; screenwriters: Tullio Pinelli/Ennio Flaiano/Brunello Rondi; cinematographer: Gianni Di Venanzo; editor: Ruggero Mastroianni; music: Nino Rota; cast: Giulietta Masina (Giulietta Boldrini), Sandra Milo (Suzy), Mario Pisu (Giorgio), Valentina Cortese (Valentina), Valeska Gert (Bishma), Jose Luis de Villaloonga (Giorgio’s friend); Runtime: 148; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Angelo Rizzoli; Criterion Collection, The; 1965-Italy/West Germany/France-in Italian with English subtitles)

“Visually splendid piece of eye candy that hides behind its gaudy exteriors an emptiness and lack of vision.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Federico Fellini (“La Strada”/”La Dolce Vita”/”Fellini’s Roma”) goes bananas in his use of loud colors, as he directs his first Technicolor film. It’s an overly indulgent but visually splendid piece of eye candy that hides behind its gaudy exteriors an emptiness and lack of vision. There’s just nothing much that has any freshness or relevant insights in this personal fantasy film, that takes us into the head of Fellini’s actress wife Giulietta Masina who plays Juliet–a bored wealthy bourgeois Roman housewife in her mid-30s with no children. She’s married to the philandering dull businessman Giorgio (Mario Pisu).

The film opens as Juliet prepares an anniversary party, where during a séance held by a clairvoyant she learns that she can hear otherworld voices. Juliet escapes into her imagination, as she becomes drawn to retreating to the past, present and future to give her routine life more meaning. Instead of the male fantasies from “8 1/2,” we get female fantasies from Masina–which are mostly silly and about Catholic guilt. Juliet is most concerned her hubby is having an affair after she hears him speaking another woman’s name in bed. Disillusioned with her reality and trying to escape from a marriage that is failing, Juliet comes to believe more and more in the spirit world.

The film is taken over by Sandra Milo, Juliet’s exotic and liberated high-living neighbor, who plays three bizarre roles and manages to be strange but uninteresting in all three roles.

I found myself bored with the fantasy sequences and not overly impressed with all the freakshow antics and dips into surrealism, which never made sense. Pedantically, it seems to be telling us to live our own life and to accept it the way it is—not to worry about the perceptions of others and not to idealize it. It reaches its highlight reel with the famous but meaningless children’s passion play that shows off more than anything else Fellini’s ability to shoot a mise-en-scène. Though the ghostly music created by Nino Rota on a unique instrument called a Nova Chord (an electronic organ) has a resonance and kept the film more entrancing than all the pea-cocked harridans, sinister silhouettes, chubby ostrich plumed matrons, slick boy-toys, and pancaked gargoyles.