Juliet of the Spirits Review

Fellini’s wife, Giulietta Masina plays Giulietta, a timid and repressed housewife. Her husband returns home on their anniversary with a group of friends, a typical Fellini gathering of artists, actors, astrologers and spiritualists. They hold a séance after which Giulietta continues to have visions and hear voices. Suspecting her husband of seeing another woman, the voices and visions encourage her to face up to her husband’s infidelity and come to terms with her own repressed sexuality. She is led on this journey by her beautiful and liberated neighbour, Susy – the absolutely gorgeous Sandra Milo – who is also the voice of Iris, the subconscious voice that encourages her to let go of her inhibitions.

Made after the landmark , Fellini once again abandoned conventional structure and plot (and indeed never really returned to it) for a fluid mix of imagination, fantasy and heightened reality fuelled by memories, dreams and repressed emotions.

Whereas was a superb examination of the director’s subconscious, a masterpiece dredged from the anxiety of writer’s block, Fellini is much less successful in Giulietta degli Spiriti. Once again examining his own personal demons of sexuality and religious guilt, here he imposes them onto those of the lead female character. It’s clearly personal material and autobiographical in as far as it seems to be trying to deal with the director’s famous real-life infidelities with his leading ladies.

More familiar in the tragicomic roles of Gelsomina in La Strada and Cabiria in Nights of Cabiria, Giulietta Masina looks a little out of place among the familiar parade of bizarre and grotesque Fellini characters, Freudian imagery and heavy symbolism. It all looks quite brilliant, but in the end the parade of remarkable images and beautiful colour cinematography never quite add up to a convincing examination of the female psyche.

Turning to colour for the first time after taking black and white photography to its pinnacle, Juliet of the Spirits looks every bit as stunning as the masterpiece . Fellini depicts Giulietta’s subconscious as a beautifully designed, Bri-Nylon created world of exaggerated staging and a blaze of brilliant bright colours. In terms of using light and colour to express mood and emotions, the film is a remarkable piece of work.

The picture is absolutely marvellous. There are few marks or scratches, just a crystal clear 1.85:1 anamorphic picture with deep, bright, perfectly saturated colours. There is some grain visible in scenes, but considering the age of the material the film still looks spectacular. Everything we expect from a Criterion release and then some.
The optional English subtitles are good, clear and readable, but the images on display are so stunning that they do get in the way and it is tempting to dispense with them altogether for the little comprehension they add to the film.

(Update 2005) - While it initially appeared fabulous three years ago, the Criterion pales in comparison to the new Region 2 edition by Nouveaux Pictures, which shows greater brightness, clarity, more natural colours and amazing shadow detail. A sample comparison is provided below. The Nouveaux edition to the left, the Criterion to the right. Click images to enlarge. A fuller look at the Nouveaux Edition can be found here.

Click to enlarge Click to enlarge

The sound is a little disappointing, but clearly the best they could do with the original mono audio track. There is a little bit of background hiss, but nothing that distracts and voices remains clear and audible throughout. Regular composer Nino Rota’s score is delightful while not being quite as great as some of his more famous signature themes and sounds well here, being allowed to play out to a blank screen for a full minute past the end titles. The lip-sync problems are as seen, being a normal consequence of post-production dubbing and using non Italian speaking actors in the cast.

Familiar Spirits: An Interview with Federico Fellini (21:29)
The interview with Fellini is a 1966 BBC interview conducted by Ian Dallas, the English magician in 8 ½. Speaking entirely in English, the director discusses his experiences of working with colour for the first time, his interest in spiritualism, his experimentation with LSD and his views on cinema as exploration, creating circumstances for the actors to react to and letting the film take its own course.

A trailer is the only other extra on the DVD, a two and a half minute montage of interweaving and overlapping stills, giving no indication what the film is about, but being an accurate enough representation of the unconventional nature of the film to discourage any casual viewer.

Self-indulgence isn’t necessarily a bad thing in cinema, particularly when it affords an insight into the brilliant mind of someone like Fellini, but there is a danger of losing your audience when the material becomes too personal. If the film’s filtering of ideas through the conduit of Giulietta is unconvincing, creating a work of art from your own personal affairs sure as hell beats going to a marriage counsellor and the treatment and images presented here are often stunning. The print quality is fine here on the Criterion and the interview in the extra features interesting, but the print is not as good as it once appeared when now compared to the Nouveaux Region 2 release.

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