Lawrence Russell

Juliet of the Spirits (1965) dir. Frederico Fellini writ. Fellini, Pinelli, Flaiano cine. Gianni Di Venanzo music Nino Rota star. Giulietta Masina (Giulietta), Mario Pisu (Giorgio), Jose Luis de Villalongo (Jose), Valentina Cortese (Valentina), Caterina Boratto (Mama), Sylva Koscina (Sylva), Louisa Della Noce (Adele), et. al.

This isn't one of Fellini's best by any means even though it comes on the cusp of the autobiographical expressionism that defines the Fellini style. Perhaps it's because it appears to be a payoff to his wife Giulietta Masina in response to his self-indulgence in 82 or maybe because it's too esoteric and monotone, a confusing psychodrama of hallucinations, memory and occultic intervention.

Which one is the plot, which one is the sub-plot -- Giulietta's (Masina) fears about her husband's affair with the 24 year old TV model... or her investigation of the spirit world? Giuletta consults a number of oracles in her pursuit of spiritual understanding, although her questions invariably deal with the problem of her husband, so both actions are wrapped in a subterfuge of personal failure and anticipation of death.

Two things make the film difficult to watch: the monotone soundtrack created by post-production dubbing and the confusing visual mix of reality and hallucination. It comes across as an aesthetic mishmash rather than a smoothly edited montage of the interior and exterior worlds of the troubled protagonist. The sets are garish, with the sort of crass design style of an Italian pastry baker, all flourish and sugar. The characters are grotesque, even when parody is not the intention. There's a sort of Renaissance ugliness that pervades the art direction. Too much Jung, too much chocolate, too many characters (especially women) whose madness is simply boring rather than mystical.

Of course Fellini is never a total write-off and there are occasional scenes/images that are very interesting. The woman in yellow arriving on the beach, the adjacent villa of dreams, the woods, the tree house, various incidentals in the surrealist narrative. But who today would remain long enough to see them?

© LR 21/5/99


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