Juliet of the Spirits

Juliet of the Spirits ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

TSPDT 949, highest ranking 491 in 2012; Director: Federico Fellini; Writer: Federico Fellini, Tullio PInelli, Ennio Flaiano, Brunello Rondi; Watched May 13th as part of the Criterion Essential Fellini Box Set (Spine 149)

145 minutes. It seems that, if 8 ½ was Fellini’s announcement to the world that he was aware of his shortcomings and charging forward as a creative force, then he certainly lived up to the promise with Juliet of the Spirits.

Both his, and his wife’s lives were laid bare for the world to dissect as he used her very intimate and personal insecurities to weave a story of a woman stuck in a marriage that was not what she wanted it to be. In the film, our heroine Giulietta is married to a dynamic man. He is well beloved by the artistic community and has a silver tongue. He is also having an affair on his wife, and she moves from uneasy feeling to suspicion to confirmation throughout the movie. In tandem, she has a neighbor move that represents her very opposite. Her neighbor, Suzy, is a sexually liberated, strong-willed, opinionated force who loves her friends and family deeply and does what she wants without regret.

These two contrasting female leads are woven together and the line between Giulietta’s friends, dreams, memories and future self become blurred as she sinks into a deeper sadness. It is a soul crushing reality to realize that your spouse does not see you in the same light as they used to and as you still currently do for them. It is also through this lens that I think Juliet of the Spirits deserves to be revisited apart from the common critique that it’s just a self indulgent film from Director and Writer Fellini.

I am reminded of the music of Bon Iver watching this movie. Have you ever heard his acoustic set with no supporting effects or music magic? Two things happen. The first is you get to see Bon Iver as a writer of simple yet beautiful folks songs. The second is you get to then listen to his fully loaded albums and sit in the mastery he has at composing music that transports his listeners to whatever world he wants them in.

This to me runs a very close parallel to Fellini. At the core, stripped of all color and beautiful costumes and dream sequences and larger than life characters, Juliet of the Spirits is a story of a woman who is going through the stages of grief that would be natural of someone who deeply loved and admired their partner and discovered it was no longer mutual. Like an understated butterfly, she ends coming quietly out of her cocoon with a steely reserve to take care of herself.

But this is not a simple story. The journey to get here is layered with a woman is deeply connected to her dreams and spirituality, and her reliance on these forces is on full visual display. And I’ll be honest, I loved all of them. It is wholly possibly this film is self-indulgent, but I think in this case Director Fellini got it right. He exposed some uncomfortable details of his own marriage to Giulietta Masina to tell an honest story.

I am going to have a difficult time ranking this as it’s a very unique film, but I really loved it and I know it will stay with me for a long time. As a quick side note, for anyone wanting to go “complete” on Fellini’s director credits, the special features on this disc include the short film he made for a horror anthology called Spirits of the Dead as well as a hard to find hour long special he shot for NBC titled Fellni: A Director’s Notebook. I just wanted to call out the cool work Criterion did in finding these two gems so that completionist don’t have to separately hunt them down.