director Federico Fellini
I can’t say that I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Federico Fellini, though that would sound more familiar and maybe make more sense. What I’ve had is more of a get-don’t get relationship with him as I’ve come to his films over the past more than a decade. But such a major figure in World Cinema, Fellini still draws me to his films, the major films I haven’t seen (but have had queued for forever.)
Juliet of the Spirits is perhaps the first of Fellini’s films that I’ve like right off the bat. In fact, I think I liked it more than any of his other films I’ve seen, I Vitelloni (1953), La Dolce Vita (1960), 8 1/2 (1963), or The Clowns (1970). Having seen these five films now spread out over 20 or so years, I probably haven’t come to a realization as quickly as if I’d simply watched them in quicker succession. In fact, maybe if I’d liked even one of them better, I might have watched another shortly after watching the documentary, Fellini: I’m a Born Liar (2003), which I watched 6 years ago.
It seems that Fellini had an awakening (perhaps influenced by LSD) that led to his notable classic 8 1/2. He pivoted styles, from the Italian neorealism from which he apprenticed, to the dreamworld surrealism of his more mature works. It is this latter style that is most often considered when hearing the term “Fellini-esque”. But would you find that in La Strada (1954), Nights of Cabiria (1957), or La Dolce Vita? All major films by the Italian maestro?
Juliet of the Spirits bears perhaps some kinship with 8 1/2 (it was his first feature that followed that break-through) in that it deals with a break from reality and sense of self and society, life and family, all meaning perhaps, but instead of Marcello Mastriani as a stand-in for Fellini, the story belongs to Juliet, played by the then 40 something Giulietta Masina, a middle aged woman with a philandering husband, and a world about to come apart at the seams.
But instead of coming apart at the seams herself, Giulietta breaks with reality for the better, not into psychosis or depression but into a wider, wilder realm of change, of self-awareness or independence, not tied to cultural norms nor pre-ordained scripts. The ending, while indeed wide-open, suggests the unwritten, the possible, and freedom.
Perhaps in changing the focus from a male character to a female, something also shifted. Masina had starred in Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria, but I don’t know enough about their relationship as creative partners to speculate on the possible significance of this focus. But I can say in Fellini’s other films, the classic Italian patriarchal world feels so unchallenged, that here it felt taken afresh.
Nights of Cabiria has been at the top of my list of Fellini films to see, so maybe I will finally start to watch his movies in closer consection than I have in the past. I can say that if asked, at present, Juliet of the Spirits would be the first Fellini film I would recommend to someone, truly the first Fellini film I have genuinely liked.
I would be utterly remiss in not saying something about the color and the costumes, the hats, of which, are absolutely amazing.