JULIET OF THE SPIRITS
Review by Michael Jacobson
Giulietta Masina, Sandra Milo, Mario Pisu
Director: Federico Fellini
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: Theatrical Trailer, Fellini Interview
Length: 137 Minutes
Release Date: March 12, 2002
is your religion. Your husband is
your god. You are the priestess of
has it that Federico Fellini took LSD in preparation for making Juliet of the
Spirits…whether this is true or not, I cannot say, but I can’t help
feeling a sense of cosmic poetry in that idea.
His film is indeed as colorful and as filled with strange, fascinating,
and elusive images as an acid trip…but ultimately, just as lacking in real
was the Italian master’s first color film, and he wielded color like a kid
with a new toy. His black and white
films were filled with memorable visuals, but Juliet is like a
smorgasbord of eye candy. It has
flavor, but ultimately, as much of a treat as candy is, you can’t subsist on
it alone for long before your body starts crying out for something more
marked the return of his wonderful wife Giulietta Masina to a leading role.
She plays the Juliet of the title. She
is a frumpish, sad, withdrawn housewife whose emotional duress leads to a
bizarre spiritual awakening.
the eve of her 15th anniversary, she plans a romantic dinner for two,
but husband Giorgio (Pisu) has forgotten all about it, showing up instead with
an entourage of weird friends. One
of these leads Juliet and companions in a séance, and from that point on, real
or imagined, the spirit world is speaking to Juliet.
problems are 1) these “spirits” often offer wildly conflicting and sometimes
impractical advice to Juliet (one even beckons her to commit suicide), and 2)
because of Fellini’s usual parade of eccentric characters in his films, it’s
often hard to determine who is flesh and who is spirit.
fears her husband is cheating on her. All
the signs are there, and everybody in her life, whether real or imagined, has
some kind of tip for her. Amongst
those she follows are visiting a psychiatrist, who actually attempts to analyze
Giorgio from photographs, and hiring private detectives.
the film isn’t really about infidelity…even worse, it doesn’t really seem
to be about anything. It’s a
visual tour-de-force as Juliet’s minor adventures take her through the story.
But the picture is either suggesting nothing, or it is trying to fault
Juliet for her own marital unhappiness. Neither
choice is particularly appealing.
best moments involve her vivacious and free-spirited neighbor, Suzy (Milo),
whose home is a posh pleasure playground. Her
gauche bedroom even includes a chute down to a heated pool, and she even owns a
lush treehouse high above the woods where lovers can be entertained.
Should Juliet follow in Giorgio’s footsteps?
Fellini doesn’t think so…even though the husband cheats without moral
qualms, entertaining the slightest temptation fills Juliet with dreadful visions
of hell fire.
real turning point for Fellini, even more so than 8 ½, by abandoning
almost all semblance of conventional or cohesive narrative in favor of visual
rape. At least in Juliet the
images are still largely beautiful, even if they carry the weight of Fellini’s
psychological baggage. By his next
film, Satyricon, he was taking his audience prisoner and forcing them to
wallow in his own private hell and confront his most personal demons through
ravaging and grotesque imagery.
remains arguably the most picturesque of Fellini’s work, despite being mired
in indulgence and misogyny. Husbands
are unfaithful and wives suffer, but at least the wives get to live in their
husbands’ erotic fantasies, even if they are deprived of experiencing them for
themselves. Not a very satisfying
notion to take away from a film, is it?
all adjectives…as someone who’s looked at many classic films on DVD over the
years, I have to say that Juliet of the Sprits is an apex.
This is quite possibly the best presentation of a pre-1970 color film I
have ever seen. Fellini’s
Technicolor vision is captured and preserved with an amazing breath of rich,
vibrant tones that are lush and natural looking.
Image detail is beyond incredible…every little iota of information in
every shot is sharply defined and crystal clear, from the foreground to the
background. You can count leaves on
trees or tiles on floors if you want to…there’s nothing fuzzy or vague about
any image in any sequence, whether lighting is bright or dim.
Criterion delivers their visual coup with this DVD offering.
The mono soundtrack is fine, but audio is often hard to judge on a Fellini picture, since all dialogue and effects are recorded in post production. I didn’t notice any problems…the track seemed clean and clear throughout, and Nino Rota’s score was effectively well presented. Not spectacular, but no complaints either.
disc contains the antithesis of a Hollywood trailer (ie, it gives NOTHING away),
and a short interview with Federico Fellini in English.