Sunday 16 December 2007

Juliet of the Spirits (1965) Federico Fellini

Of all the great world directors that I'm discovering of late, Federico Fellini may be the one that I most enjoy without really understanding why. My first Fellini was La Strada, which introduced me to both the director and his wife, the delightful Giuletta Masina. I enjoyed the film on the first viewing but didn't appreciate it fully or really understand what it was truly about until the second. I'm fully aware that the same may well apply to Fellini's other films and that even further viewings may assist also.

We begin here with a small party to celebrate the wedding anniversary of the Boldrinis: the Giuletta of the title and her husband Giorgio, played by Masina and Mario Pisu. The guests are a bizarre bunch including a young mystic lady called Valentina who sets up a seance. Here's where we first realise that the spirits of the title don't have anything to do with the next life, they're more like guides through what Giuletta sees either in visions or dreams or reminiscences; and they're set up exactly how I'd expect from Fellini, with outrageous costumes, outrageous sets and wonderfully lush hallucinatory images.

The school play is particularly memorable for many reasons, not least the faceless nuns and angel wings. It made me really wish I'd been there for a showing of that play, or even better to have acted in it. This is just now of many scenes though worthy of note: the beach scene, the visit with the man/woman mystic Bishma, the forest. Fellini is truly awesome at fashioning surreal beauty. Merely visiting the neighbour to return a cat turns into a magical journey that ends in the treetops. And everything is joyously colourful as Fellini was experimenting with colour for the first time.

There is a story here amongst the fancies. We learn at the beginning of the film that Giuletta is a loving wife, but she gradually learns that her husband must be having an affair. He mutters the name Gabriella in his sleep but evades all questions in the morning. From there everything seems to point towards an affair and this is confirmed by private investigation. However while this may be the central plotline, the film hardly works in such a linear or straightforward manner. What it's really about is Giuletta living in a world of imagination and having to work out which parts of her world are real and which imaginary and to come to terms with everything.

Giuletta Masina is awesome, as always, but while she's the central character she projects everything outwards so that it appears that the film is happening to her. Thus she really doesn't get to do anywhere near as much as anyone else in the film, it seems, and there's definitely a distance between her and the rest of the film. She gets to do plenty with her face and she could do more than anyone with that, as she has the most expressive eyes I think I've ever seen. The really overt acting, or deliberate overacting in some cases, goes to the rest of the cast: Sandra Milo, Valentina Cortese and others. Mostly they're women as the men don't get much to do.

And like any other Fellini movie, I'm going to have to follow the trend I started with La Strada: experience it once then come back at a later point in time to revisit and hopefully understand more. Right now Juliet of the Spirits is a gorgeous visual feast, accompanied by a memorable score by Nina Rota using an old instrument called a novachord. It doesn't seem to do what it presumably intends, as it apparently has much meaning when applied to the Fellini's own marriage. It purports to be a film about Giuletta, but really is a film about Fellini himself. At least that's what I'm seeing now, but I'll reserve judgement until at least the next viewing.

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