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Juliet of the Spirits
Remind Me

Juliet of the Spirits

Synopsis: Juliet (Giulietta) is an Italian housewife who suspects that her husband is unfaithful but is unable to face up to it fully. Prone to daydreaming and fascinated by séances and spiritism, she begins to open up to the possibilities of life when she meets Suzy, her colorful, sexually liberated neighbor.

Federico Fellini deliberately conceived of his first color film, Juliet of the Spirits (1965), as the second half of a diptych that includes 8 1/2 (1963). This time, however, it depicts the wife's rather than the unfaithful husband's point of view. Underlying structural parallels between the two films abound: both involve the eruption of dreams into daily life, the revisiting of childhood trauma in order to free one's self, and even specific plot elements such as both protagonists' conflicted relationship with the Catholic church and visits to a religious leader for advice. In 8 1/2 Guido visits an aged cardinal, whereas in Juliet of the Spirits the wife visits an androgynous Hindu sage named Bhishma. (Incidentally, the latter was played by Valeska Gert, best known for her unforgettable performance as the sadistic head of a girl's reformatory school in Pabst's Diary of a Lost Girl from 1929.)

Fellini's deep interest in Jungian psychology is critical to understanding both films, but especially Juliet of the Spirits. Fellini began psychotherapy in 1954, in response to a bout of depression he experienced while working on La Strada (1954). As Tullio Kezich notes in his 2002 study of Fellini's life and work, starting in the early Sixties the director began regular analysis with Dr. Ernst Bernard, who trained under Jung. Fellini also read Jung's own writings intensively and began noting his dreams in a diary. In a 1966 interview published in Film Comment, Fellini described his underlying goal behind the film in the following manner: "I want to suggest to modern man a road of inner liberation, to accept and love life the way it is without idealizing it, without creating concepts about it, without projecting oneself into idealized images on a moral or ethical plane." Juliet's progress towards self-knowledge is thus akin to Jung's concept of individuation, entailing as it does her personal spiritual quest, her interpretation of dreams and her relationship to various archetypal figures.

Visualizing the inner world of Giulietta was another matter. In the same Film Comment interview, Fellini said: "The film is a big dream, and color is part of the language of dreams. Dreams are concepts... they are not accessories... or the memory of a sensory reality... the dream is expressed through the colors in order to convey ideas. Giulietta had to be done in color because it is truly a dreamlike film. It was a fascinating experience regardless of the regret, the fear, and the difficulties." In that regard, his collaboration with the production designer Piero Gherardi (1909-1971) and the cinematographer Gianni di Venanzo (1920-1966) played an especially large role in realizing his vision. Gherardi began working with Fellini on Nights of Cabiria (1957), but his work with Fellini became increasingly flamboyant starting with La Dolce Vita (1960) and reached something of a culmination in Juliet of the Spirits, with its outlandishly stylized costumes and sets. Giulietta's home was inspired by Fellini's and Giulietta Massini's actual home in Fregene, but here Gherardi plays with scale so that on the outside it appears small, almost like an oversized doll house, yet oddly spacious in the interior. (The interiors were shot on a soundstage, of course.) Suzy's mansion is a visual riot of primary colors and pastels, with such fanciful details as a slide from the bedroom directly into the swimming pool.

Shooting in color for the first time proved to be more difficult than anticipated for both Fellini and Di Venanzo. Fellini described the process as follows: "I put a light on that green bush, the young lady is in shadow, the camera is a black silhouette against the red color of the house, and I turn on the lights. All goes well if I remain still with the camera, but as soon as I go nearer or farther, things change. This set becomes brighter if I go nearer, it becomes dull if I go farther away, so by the bright and dull process of the lights all the chromatic qualities are changed. So it is actually impossible... you cannot continuously control all the variations of the light." While the finished film remains remarkable for its use of color, afterwards crew members would recall a great deal of tension and openly expressed frustrations between the director and cinematographer on the set. Fortunately, the recent restoration of Juliet of the Spirits and its subsequent re-release enable us to better appreciate what Fellini and his crew did accomplish. While few would argue that Juliet matches up to La Dolce Vita or 8 1/2, Fellini's masterpiece and a regular fixture on critics' all-time best lists, it's nonetheless a worthy entry in the Fellini canon.

Producer: Angelo Rizzoli
Director: Federico Fellini
Screenplay: Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano, Brunello Rondi, based on an original idea by Federico Fellini and Tullio Pinelli
Director of Photography: Gianni di Venanzo
Production and costume design: Piero Gherardi
Music: Nino Rota
Editing: Ruggero Mastroianni
Cast: Giulietta Masina (Juliet/Giulietta), Sandra Milo (Suzy, Iris and Fanny), Mario Pisu (Giorgio), Valeska Gert (Bishma), Sylva Koscina (Sylva), Fredrich Ledebur (Medium), Valentina Cortese (Valentina), Jose Luis de Villalonga (Giorgio's friend), Caterina Boratto (Juliet's mother), Lou Gilbert (Grandfather), Luisa della Noce (Adele), Milena Vukotic (Elisabetta).
C-137m. Letterboxed.

by James Steffen