Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 7/12/09 w/ Additional Edits.
After two back-to-back feature films that were considered landmark films for cinema, Federico Fellini was clearly the top director of Italian cinema. While Fellini was known for his unique ambitions, his art films were clearly not for everyone as some Italian filmgoers were finding themselves being drawn to the rising world of Spaghetti Westerns led by Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci. Yet, Fellini decided to press on with his ambitions in a film that relates to his view of surrealism entitled Giulietta degli Spiriti (Juliet of the Spirits).
Directed by Fedrico Fellini which he co-wrote with collaborators Ennio Flaiano and Tullio Pinelli along with Brunello Rondi. Giulietta degli Spiriti tells the story of a woman who explores her subconscious as she delves into the world of her sexy neighbor. Oppressed by her mundane life and her cheating husband, the woman goes into a surreal world where she faces many dreams and nightmares. A film that revels into Fellini's fascination with surrealism, it's also the first feature-length film he made in color as it would be considered as one of his finest films of his career. Starring Fellini regulars Giulietta Masina and Sandra Milo plus Mario Pisu, Valentina Cortese, Valeska Gert, Jose Luis de Villalonga, and Caterina Boratto. Giulietta degli Spiriti is an eerie yet spellbinding film from Federico Fellini.
It's an anniversary party for Giulietta Boldrini (Giulietta Masina) and her husband Giorgio (Mario Pisu). Attending the party is Giulietta's friend Valentina (Valentina Cortese), Dolores (Silvana Jachino), and a clairvoyant named Genius (Genius). The clairvoyant decided to contact spirits for the party with several people while Giorgio and his friend are outside. During the party, Giulietta faints though she quickly recovers. The next day during the beach with her friends and sisters Adele (Luisa Della Noce) and Sylva (Sylva Koscina), surreal images start to appear that features an old man while her neighbor Suzy (Sandra Milo) makes an appearance at the beach. Later that day, Giulietta and her sisters meet their mother (Caterina Boratto) who wonders why Giulietta always put on an understated appearance.
When Giorgio returns home from work, they watch a TV program where later that night, he utters the name Gabriella in his sleep. Giulietta later asks him as he claims he has no idea what he said as Val visits to invite her to a seance with their friend Elena (Elena Fondra). During that seance, Giulietta talks to a spiritual guru (Valeska Gert) who speaks of Giulietta's problems with her marriage and what she should do. Giulietta becomes troubled by the images where she suddenly recalls a fascinating memory involving her grandfather (Lou Gilbert) and a circus ingenue (Sandra Milo). Returning home, she is encountered by a friend of Giorgio named Jose (Jose Luis de Villalonga) who makes sangria for her as he reveals about his world of bullfighting. Giulietta finds herself amazed by Jose though her suspicions of Giorgio's philandering is raised. Turning to Adele for help, they go to a private detective and a psychiatrist for help in order to confirm Giulietta's suspicions.
When a cat appears in Giulietta's backyard, she realizes it belongs to her neighbor Suzy as she goes to Suzy's lavish home filled with a variety of people as they quickly befriend one another. Even as Suzy tries to get Giulietta to open up sexually while taking her to her secret tree house. After getting a call from the private investigator to reveal what is going on with Giorgio, Giulietta suddenly faces the dark truth as her world crumbles. After a party held by Suzy where she encounters strange people and a beautiful young man, Giulietta suddenly has horrifying images that recalls images of the time she was to be martyred for a school play that her late friend Laura was involved in. The images start to be around her where at a party that involves a psycho-dramatist (Anne Francine) finds Giulietta desperate to rid of these images while forced to confront her troubled marriage. After going to the home of Giorgio's mistress in hopes to confront her, she returns home as she is haunted by her troubled marriage and demons surrounding her.
The film is about a woman's life that begins to unravel after an encounter with spirits where she begins to discover her troubled marriage as well as her free-spirited neighbor. Really, it's a film about demons and a woman's inability to find a life outside of her troubled marriage. With her sisters and friends telling her that she should leave Giorgio, the big question is what's next for Giulietta? Making things worse are memories and surreal images that begin to haunt her. Including the ghost of her departed friend Laura, who died at age 15 of drowning, and her eccentric grandfather who refused to have her take part in a ceremony that had him expelled from a prestigious school.
While the script is mostly a character study of a woman's troubled state of mind along with her troubled marriage due to her husband's philandering. The film recalls a lot of Fellini's own personal life which involves his real-life marriage to the film's star Giulietta Masina. A marriage that featured rumors that Fellini himself, had been having affairs with other women at the time he was becoming this internationally-renowned director a few years back. A lot of the film's spiritual, ghostly storylines revel in Fellini's fascination with surrealism as well as his early experiments with the drug known as LSD. With his collaborators like screenwriters Tullio Pinelli and Ennio Flaiano along with Brunello Rondi working on this story. The result is truly a film that delves into the world of death, spirituality, and marriage all surrounding a woman's state of mind.
Fellini's direction, being that it is his first film in color, reveal a new maturity in the director. Though the film at times lags in certain spots, it does show that Fellini is still as engaging in his camera work and presentation. With lavish scenes involving the circus and parties that are colorful yet surreal. It has images and scenes that are truly striking while his camera has great compositions on how he shoots the characters. There's times that the faces are darkened only to be shown fully for dramatic effect. At the same time, the camera rarely has a close-up on Sandra Milo throughout the entire film. Still, the images Fellini creates through some amazing visual effects to the lavish art direction shows that he can still create unforgettable images that dazzles the mind of the audience.
Cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo does some fabulous with the film's rich, colorful cinematography from the exquisite, sunny exteriors on the daytime scenes, notably the look of the scenes in the woods to the dream-like nighttime exteriors of the house that Giulietta and Giorgio live in. The interior scenes, notably the home of Suzy and the scenes with the circus all awash with bright colors to give it a lavish look. Di Venanzo's work that includes some great zoom shots are entrancing to watch in every scene and image shown on the film. Editor Ruggero Mastroianni does some excellent work with the film's transitional cuts, dissolves, and other quick fade-to-black styles. While the editing is mostly conventional yet stylized, it has moments where it lags in the pacing though does work in its dramatic effect in several scenes.
Production designers Giantito Burchiellaro, Luciano Ricceri, and E. Benazzi Taglietti along with set decorator Vito Anzalone, and art director/costume designer Piero Gherardi is marvelous in the look of the home of Giulietta with its trees and gardens along with the look of Suzy's home. The production design on the circus scenes are extravagant yet wonderful in the presentation as it's one of the film's technical highlights. Gherardi's costume design lives up to the film's lavish production with hats, dresses, and costumes that really plays up to the posh lifestyle of its characters. With its large hats, colorful dresses, and the clothes that Sandra Milo wears, it's another of the film's highlights in its technical work.
The sound work of Mario Faraoni and Mario Morigi is excellent in creating moments of suspense as well as bringing a ghostly sound to the film's dramatic scenes. The film's best technical highlight is the vibrant, flourishing score of Nino Rota. Rota's pieces from 1930s-1940s style jazz, electric organ-style pieces that plays to the film's dreamy, comical tone. The arrangements and melodic-driven score that Rota creates is overall fascinating and powerful. It is truly one of the most majestic and memorable film scores in the history of film.
The cast is truly amazing with memorable appearances from Alba Cancellieri as the young Giulietta, Sujata Rubener as the assistant of the spiritual guru, Elisabetta Gray & Milena Vukotic as Giuletta's maids, Alessandra Mannoukine as Suzy's mother, and Mario Connocchia as Giulietta's old headmaster. Other notable small roles like Elena Fondra as Elena, the famed clairvoyant Genius as himself, Anne Francine as the psycho-dramatist, Sylva Koscina as Giulietta's TV star sister Sylva, Silvana Jachino as Dolores, Lou Gilbert as Giulietta's grandfather, Luisa Della Noce as Adele, and as the grotesque, strange spiritual guru, Valeska Gert. Caterina Boratto is excellent as Giulietta's rich, snobbish mother while Jose Luis de Villalonga is very good as Giorgio's friend Jose.
Valentina Cortese is wonderful as Giulietta's best friend Valentina who introduces Giulietta to the world of the spirits as she becomes more intrigued by what it has done for Giulietta while being concerned for her well-being. Mario Pisu is good as Giorgio, the philandering husband who constantly lies while being unaware that his wife knows exactly what she knows he's doing. Sandra Milo is great in the role of three women where she plays the circus ingenue known as Fanny as well as a spirit named Iris. Yet, it's the role of Suzy that Milo really gets to be loose and free while providing some great scenes with Giulietta Masina as it's definitely an excellent supporting performance from the sexy yet vivacious Milo.
Finally, there's Giulietta Masina in an amazing performance as the title character of Giulietta. While it may not have the comical approach and liveliness of her famed, previous performances in La Strada and Nights of Cabiria, it's definitely of Masina's best roles. Especially for how understated she is in her reactions to situations. There's something angelic in her facial expressions that plays well to her quiet, restrained role. Even as she doesn't do a lot of over-the-top performance as she is Masina is really the heart of the film.
Released in the fall of 1965, the film drew rave reviews with critics marking another achievement for Federico Fellini. Despite winning a Golden Globe and several critics awards, the film marked the last time Fellini worked with longtime screenwriter Ennio Flaiano who had a falling out with the director of creative credits. The film also marked a new phase for Fellini as he became more interested in surreal imagery due to the work of Carl Jung that would have a huge impact on his next film, Fellini Satyricon.
While it may not reach the brilliance of films like La Strada, Nights of Cabiria, or his two previous films, Giulietta degli Spiriti is still a brilliant, colorful, and haunting film from Federico Fellini. Thanks in part to the radiant performance of Giulietta Masina, it's a film that is definitely quintessential Fellini in all of its extravagance, humor, and look. Along with a great score by Nino Rota, it's a film that revels in the world of spirits and into a woman's state of mind as she deals with her troubled marriage. Despite a few flaws, Giulietta degli Spiriti is a mesmerizing, enchanting film from Federico Fellini.
Federico Fellini Films: (Variety Lights) - The White Shiek - I, Vitelloni - (L'amore in Citta-Un'agenzia matrimoniale) - La Strada - Il bidone - Nights of Cabiria - La Dolce Vita - (Boccaccio '70-Le tentazioni del Dottor Antonio) - 8 1/2 - Histoires extraordinaires-Toby Dammit - (Fellini: A Director's Notebook) - Fellini Satyricon - (I Clowns) - Roma - Amarcord - Casanova - (Orchestra Rehearsal) - City of Women - And the Ship Sails On - Ginger and Fred - (Intervista) - (The Voice of the Moon)
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