The editors of the List have these directors they really like, and Fellini is definitely one of those. So, once again I have a Fellini movie to review, this time it is “Juliet of the Spirits” (“Giulieeta degli spiriti”). Followers of this blog will know that my relationship with Fellini is… strained and so I went into this movie with very low expectations.
“Juliet of the Spirits” is both a confusing and complex movie and a deceptively simple story, both hard and easy to decipher.
Juliet of the title (Giulietta Masina) is this proper, boring housewife who is stuck in her own life. Her pretty home is like a cage. Her husband is having affairs and not doing much to hide them, and everybody else seems to have a far more interesting life than Juliet. This movie is about Juliet breaking out of her own prison, physically and particularly mentally.
What happens to Juliet is half real, half imagined. Juliet is projecting a lot of her thoughts into visions and dreamlike sequences to the extent that we as viewers hardly know what is real and what is imagined. This is not made easier with the circuslike menagerie of odd characters surrounding Juliet. There are occultists who get her involved in spiritism, conjuring up some weird spirits, one of which becomes a guide to Juliet. There are some extravagant neighbors who have verly… liberated lifestyles. There are dancers, prostitutes, clowns, doctors, purple nuns and what-not.
All the while Juliet is the observer rather than involved in this circus. She looks at it in bemused wonder, but also impotent at taking part in it. When invited she shies away. When discovering her husband’s infidelity, she is unable to do anything about it and all the while she is the complete opposite of the colorful and lively menagerie around her. Everybody tries to tell her what to do and draw her in all directions until in the finale it all comes to a confusing head and she breaks free.
This is Fellinis first color feature and it shows. He is like a small child with a box of crayons using big colors everywhere with all the colors having a symbolic meaning. White for innocence, red for lust etc. It makes for a pretty movie, but it is also rather overwhelming. Especially until you start getting an idea of what is going on here. Frankly, the first hour I was just confused and had no idea what I was looking at. But in the second half it all falls into place and starts to make sense. At that point I accepted the use of the colors as meaningful rather than annoying and confusing.
The same with the Nino Rota score. It is flamboyant and overwhelming with Tivoli and circus themes and very much contributes to the surreal effect. It was grating to begin with but became increasingly fitting as I got attuned to the movie.
I will grudgingly admit that I liked “Juliet of the Spirits” better than I expected and it may even be one of the best Fellini movie I have seen, but it is certainly not a movie for everybody and one I would find it difficult to recommend.
I did like the tree house though. I want one of those.