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Juliet of the Spirits: The Criterion Collection

There was a time in the mid-'60s when the first color films of major European directors were a big deal. While in the United States network television was making the difficult transition to color — with such shows such as The Fugitive going rainbow in mid-run — directors in Europe (including Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Jacques Demy) pondered the impact of color on their often grim, realistic working methods. But perhaps the director for whom color was a true inevitability was Federico Fellini. His black-and-white work from I Vitelloni in 1953 on seemed like it was in color already, so lavish and rich were the settings and treatment. But in fact Fellini did not make the transition until 1965, with Juliet of the Spirits (Giulietta degli spiriti). Photographed by Gianni di Venanzo, Juliet has dynamic visuals and lavish set design, but frankly little else. This typically episodic Fellini film concerns Giulietta (Fellini's wife, Giulietta Masina), a staid housewife with an unexciting life whose husband (Mario Pisu) is a Fellini-like character surrounded by a carnivalesque crowd of models, gay hustlers, débutantes, Americans, psychics, socialites, and so on. Giuletta learns through a detective agency that her husband is having an affair, and this sets her off on a tentative effort to find a form of liberation. Meanwhile, she is haunted by crude sexual and religious visions, the thrust of the story being toward Giulietta freeing herself of the visions, and of her limited life as a housewife. Like 8-1/2, of which this seems to be the feminine complement, Juliet of the Spirits is steeped in the pseudo "science" of psychoanalysis and its even-more-bogus variant propounded by Carl Jung, in which the internally conflicted Fellini was interested at the time. Born of a tempestuous production history, and compromised by running arguments with Fellini's lead actress, the film is something of a downtime project for the director after the heights of La Dolce Vita and 8-1/2, and before the achievements of Fellini Satyricon and passages of Fellini's Roma, as well as other later films. By this time, though, Fellini had left far behind the whimsical neo-realism of his earlier years. Juliet of the Spirits is held together solely by its relentless style, a prototype for the Baz Luhrmann approach to cinema. Yet for a film ostensibly female-centric, it seems oddly hostile to women, who are usually presented as grotesques, and Masina's visions, which often include sultry naked women, seem male rather than female fantasies. By the time Masina vacates the premises à la Ibsen, the viewer doesn't care because of the vagueness of the problems she is leaving behind and the ethereal nature of the destination before her. Those who like Fellini's lavish settings, roving camera, cast of thousands, and the silent-clown acting style of Masina will no doubt love this DVD, and certainly Fellini completists will require it. Criterion's release is the 137-minute version of the movie, as opposed to the 147-minute version also released in America, or the 150-minute version released in Germany. The disc offers a gorgeous anamorphic transfer of the film in its original aspect ratio (1.85:1). The audio is a serviceable Dolby Digital 1.0, and newly improved digital English subtitles are here as well. Extras are minimal (perhaps a measure of how little enthusiasm the film inspires). Besides the ineffective theatrical trailer, which is a series of mostly still images, there's a 19-minute Fellini interview on British television. Keep-case.

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