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Old 06-30-2009, 04:20 PM
Federico Fellini's Juliet of the Spirits

Juliet of the Spirits (1965)

Once again we come to the great Italian director Federico Fellini, who has made such fascinating films as "8½," "La Dolce Vita," and "Nights of Cabiria." In some of his films he tends to cross over into a very strange surreal area in an attempt to tell the characters' story. Sometimes this works really well, like with Guido in "8½," while in other films, like "Juliet of the Spirits," it doesn't work as well as it should.

The film begins with Juliet (Giulietta Boldrini) preparing for her anniversary and waiting for her husband, Giorgio (Mario Pisu), to come home. When he arrives, he has brought several friends home with him. This leads to some of them holding a séance in which they summon up a couple of different spirits. That night, Juliet's husband blurts out a woman's name in his sleep, which makes her believe that he may be having an affair. Eventually, she hires some detectives to confirm this, and when they do, she must find a way to deal with it.

This film had a similar problem that came up in another Fellini film I saw not too long ago, "Amarcord." Like that film, "Juliet" never clearly focuses on anything in its story. However, unlike "Amarcord," which couldn't really focus on anything because it had way too much going on, "Juliet" has the opposite problem of not having very much substance in the first place.

This is another one of those films that just didn't know what it wanted to be about. It starts off with the séance, which is played as if it will be an important part of the movie, but is never really mentioned again. Then the story shifts to the beach where we first see Juliet's neighbor, Suzy (Sandra Milo), whom we get to know later in the film.

After the suspicions with her husband arise, she seeks the help of a visiting medium, yet these scenes barely touch on the problem with her husband. The story then begins to settle down as she focuses on the problem in a practical way, by hiring the detectives to investigate her husband. With these scenes, it almost felt as though the movie was finally beginning to focus itself on a plot that would finally make it engaging to watch.

However, right after these scenes, the film begins to meander again as Juliet meets Suzy and is drawn into her world of pleasure. These scenes with Suzy don't add anything to the film, but do detract from it by acting as a distraction from the plot that was beginning to be established.

It is with this second half of the film that Fellini starts to turn it into a surrealist nightmare in certain spots, especially towards the end. Juliet starts having flashbacks to her younger self acting in a Joan of Arc type play at her church, which her grandfather interrupts. The visions could have possibly began because she felt guilty about coming somewhat close to participating in an orgy at Suzy's house, but she ran away before anything could happen, yet the visions still haunt her.

It is probably because the film meandered a lot around the half-developed plot that these visions felt like they had no place in the story, not really adding anything, but possibly showing that she might have been going mad due to her husband's affair. The last few minutes of the film really felt like Fellini was just going overboard with the surrealism, with the effect being that they didn't have much effect and instead, were rather nonsensical.

To Fellini's credit, "Juliet of the Spirits" is beautifully filmed. It earned Oscar nominations for its gorgeous Art Direction/ Set Decoration and Costumes. It just seems that he chose to concentrate a lot more on style rather than substance as indicated by its amazing look, but lacking story. It's been said that this film is supposed to be all about the look, but if this is true, then why would Fellini and his fellow screenwriters even bother to develop the plot with Juliet's husband at all?

As is customary with Fellini's films, it ends with a processional of all the characters, real and imaginary, that Juliet has been seeing. We see most of them leave as they drive down the beach in large vehicles. We even see Juliet's grandfather leave on an old-fashioned airplane. If we are to take these visions as her madness, then we can say that it could be representing her return to reality and sanity. But when we hear those voices talking to her again at the very end, we know that she's not quite there yet. 2.5/4 stars.


More reviews of Fellini's work:

"Nights of Cabiria:" http://joblo.com/forums/showthread.php?t=127740

"Amarcord:" http://joblo.com/forums/showthread.php?t=127001
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