Juliet of the Spirits (1965)

Fellini is in rare and incoherent form with "Juliet of the Spirits"...well, isn't he always? The director has a way of blending sounds, using random images, and applying the surreal to evoke a response. He is more like Terrence Malick than people give him credit for.
Perhaps both his most straight-forward and enigmatic piece, "Juliet of the Spirits" feels like a love letter Fellini penned to his wife Giulietta Masina, who plays and shares her name with the title character. This is added onto the commentary that Fellini makes on women, marriage, love, and happiness and you've got yourself the right ingredients for a fable. Indeed, the way Fellini handles each scene makes you feel like you're watching a fantasy movie—he quickly introduces new characters, allows for Fincher-esque editing, and has the most unusual score playing in the background of all of this. It feels like a side attraction on a circus, but then again, it also feels like a masterpiece.
The movie begins with Juliet (or Giulietta in the original Italian) waiting for her husband on their anniversary night. She's been prepping for him to return home all day and her two maids are dizzy with excitement. In the first scene, Fellini and cinematographer Gianni Di Venanzo make sure not to capture Juliet's face. She sits in front of mirrors and reflections seem to be on every door; yet somehow we manage to never see her face until she steps into view, purposeful and grandly. It's this moment that we see Masina out of her element—in a good way. Known as a comedic actress she entrusts herself to her husband and he directs her—the collaboration is stunning and her performance alone makes the movie worth watching.
Juliet is greeted by her husband Giorgio (Mario Pisu) who seems to have forgotten the special day. He smiles to himself and then invites a plethora of odd characters to join them for festivities, claiming that it is a surprise for Juliet. She is a gracious host, but obviously shaken and we see her telling herself not to cry as she gets overwhelmed with the eccentric characters that stream into her house.
Later in the evening, part joke and part drunkenness, the guests decide that they want to communicate with the ghosts in the house. They all gather around the table and they begin communicating with a spirit named Iris who soon gets replaced with an angrier soul named Olaf. It would seem that this is just fun; but it awakens something inside Juliet.
Over the next few days, she discovers a change. Whenever she starts to dose off or whenever her concentration is being pulled apart, she starts to see things. The film is never crass enough to label these people as "dead people" or "ghosts", instead calmly avoiding any stereotype of the horror genre. These are not scary, yet their imagery is very flaunted and can be shocking. Juliet gets understandably shaken by their appearances.
"Juliet of the Spirits" is a movie about character development and it is an exercise in paying attention. You must notice everything going on in the movie, you might get lost other wise.
Light and sound play a huge part in this movie, more so than any other Fellini picture I've seen. He enjoys shooting his characters in complete darkness and letting them step into the light—this would agree with the over-arcing theme of self-realization.
The costume design is quite stunning and won gain an Oscar nomination; but the real star of the film is Juliet herself. Masina is charming, sarcastic, wounded, and slightly unhinged. What we see here is close to the nicest Fellini ever was towards women.
Still, it's ghostly feeling, the vaudeville infused scenery, and the sexual politics—all inclusive it makes "Juliet of the Spirits" a complicated and fruitful movie.

Score: ★★★★

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