Blu-Ray Review – Juliet of the Spirits

On of Fellini’s most important movies for several reasons, Juliet of the Spirts was the director’s first full-length colour film, and the follow-up to his masterpiece, 8 ½. It starred his wife, Giulietta Masina, and was one of the few films he ever did with a female protagonist. It was also a bit trippy—the director reportedly took LSD as part of his preparation for making the film. And in the cinemas of Baltimore and New York, John Waters and Divine were watching Fellini’s films on LSD, creating an interesting loop of influence.

Juliet is a bored, unfulfilled housewife whose husband is obviously cheating on her –this may be more than a little autobiographical, as Fellini was not exactly the most faithful husband… She goes on a strange, fantastical journey of self-discovery characterised by bright colours that are fully used by the director here on his first outing, with much of the adventure involving her more liberated neighbour Suzy (Sandra Milo). There are the usual clowns, dwarves and grotesques that you would expect from a Fellini film, of course, as well as many references to psychoanalysis, which he was really into at the time.

It’s a gorgeously shot film, and I would say his use of psychedelics seems to have influenced its structure. It’s one of his best ‘60s movies, and as Fellini didn’t make another film til Satyricon (which was a bit of a mess) its one to enjoy. His fantastic mockumentary on circus clowns, The Clown, was the next really great Fellini project.

The performances are all dubbed, as was typical of Italian films at the time. I always find it distracting for the first half hour, but eventually you get used to it. Masina is a great actress, and its mostly her film. Her amazing eyes make it possible for much to be understood without words. Apparently the male lead, Giulietta’s husband Giorgio, was meant to be Marcello Mastroianni but the role was taken by Mario Pisu. Giorgio really is a secondary character—the fact that he’s a pretty useless guy is part of the point.

There’s a great score by Nino Rota, one of his frequent collaborators and also the film musicmaker for The Godfather and many other films. Rota was so prolific that his scores are often reused. According a New Yorker profile, this particular soundtrack is permanently on actor Steve Buscemi’s turntable.

There aren’t loads of extras on the dual-format disc, other than a commentary by Kate Elllinger, who writes for Diabolique, and an essay on the film from Prof. Guido Bonsaver. That said, it’s a HD restoration that’s been re-graded and re-subtitled for this release, making it a very watchable re-release.

★★★★½

Ian Schultz

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