Visions, memories, and mysticism all help a 40-something woman to find the strength to leave her cheating husband.
Nominated for 2 OSCARS: Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design
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Fellini's Giulietta degli spiriti (Juliet of the Spirits, 1965) is his follow-up to 8 ½, and does not quite reach the heights of the earlier film, but is an intriguing and entertaining film; unusual of course in form, and also content. It is an exploration of a middle-aged woman's psychology-- it delves into her memories, visions and nightmares as she tries to find happiness in her present life. If one is wondering whether Fellini is a simple misogynist, I believe this film proves he had a genuine and smart interest in women, since it is completely from a female point of view.
The Giulietta in the title is played by Giulietta Masina herself, and, as usual, she holds the film together with her natural allure and honest demeanor. During the first few minutes of the film, we only see her back as her servants help her get ready, and when she finally steps into the light it is a delight to see her smiling face, although we quickly learn that smile hides a sad and lost person. Giulietta is a housewife, devoted to a husband who barely pays her any attention and whom she discovers is having an affair, which he will refuse to be honest about. She is often surrounded by a myriad of exciting individuals who are quite amusing but truly artificial, and her only family consists of a mother and two sisters, who resemble the evil stepmother and stepsisters of a fairy tale. She also meets clairvoyants, seers, psychologists and hears spirits' voices but none of them really give her any answers as to how to be happy and deal with her problems. The only real clues are her own; her visions, memories and fantasies, some beautiful and delightful, some nightmarish and odd.
Unlike 8 ½, the fantasies and visions our main character sees are often blurred with reality, and not easy to distinguish from the real world, especially since the real world can also be very psychedelic and unnerving. Giulietta is sitting at a beach talking with friends in one shot, and in the next, looking out to the water where she sees a terrifying sort of boat that holds a host of modern day pirates and sexual deviants. We see some of her flashbacks into childhood, but some memories are revealed to be fantasized, and at one point, Giulietta is in her own flashback, watching even as she remembers. When she tries to do something different with her life and have some fun, visions of those memories, when she played a martyred saint in a religious school play, haunt her and keep her from engaging in unfaithful sexual acts. Both her memories of a Catholic background and the voice of a devious spirit begin to haunt her wherever she is, until they nearly drive her insane, and it becomes clear that she alone must change her own life, her past as well as her present.
Visually, this film is quite stunning. As Fellini's first color film, it displays every color on the palette and the color cinematography certainly adds to the fantastic characters and their environment. The costumes are bright purples, yellows and reds, and they are incredibly designed costumes one is not likely to see in any film but one of Fellini. The art direction is also worth mentioning-- Fellini's team created amazing environments for the characters, especially the house of Giulietta's eccentric and slightly nymphomaniacal neighbor. Giulietta's house is also well done; it is somehow warm and cold at once, a quaint ivy covered cottage on the outside, but modern on the inside. Piero Ghirardi is responsible for both the costumes and the art direction, and received Oscar nominations for both.
I enjoyed this film for the most part. Some scenes go over the top; they are trying to hard to be overly weird and uncomfortable. But Fellini truly explores a woman's experience; a mature yet innocent woman who is suppressed by those around her and is struggling to find a freedom she has never known, yet also afraid to be free. It was a welcome discovery to find that Fellini sees more in women than the simple figures of wife, mother and lover. It seems Giulietta Masina was his muse in life and art, as he created some of his best work with her.