Juliet of the Spirits Jaime March 2014

The imagery alone is hypnotizing at times, and you get the sense that these films might still be enjoyable even without sound.  Juliet of the Spirits is a highly expressive movie, one that puts color and strong emotional tones to great use.  But that’s about as much praise as I can give.

The Players:

  • Director: Federico Fellini
  • Writer:  Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano, Brunello Rondi
  • Cast:  Giulietta Masina, Sandra Milo, Mario Pisu


A middle aged women, Julieta (Giulietta Boldrini), gradually comes to terms with her cheating husband and eventually achieved a new sense of identity.

As was one of his trademarks, Juliet of the Spirits takes us in a dreamlike world, sometimes resembling a circus.  Fellini is clearly an artist, and in Juliet his ability to create a kaleidoscope of images is sharp, though not as strikingly meaningful as in other films.  To immerse us into this fantasy world, we’re given a steady stream of smoke, shadows, fog and a broad palette of vibrant colors.  But even with all the artificiality of the sets, for example, we get nothing more than a tired conveyance of Julieta’s escapes from reality.  There’s a scene that perhaps best illustrates the artsy nature of this film.  As Julieta listens to a Buddhist/Tibetan speaker, he holds an apple and asks the crowd to identify what he is holding.  Julieta’s instinct is to notice only the apple, but a fellow participant quickly encourages to “look  beyond appearance”.  If this is a message we’re supposed to accept, it seems a bit banal here.  In reality, I’m not sure how much thought Fellini put into moments like these, but in his hands, the film comes close to feeling as though he’s no longer the inventive filmmaker he had once been.

By the time Fellini made Juliet, he had already dazzled audiences with La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2.  He had also pulled the heartstrings in La Strada, my personal favorite. In Juliet, there are wonderful moments, as when she describes how her husband had once been her entire world.  You hear her speak and it’s hard not to feel her sense of loss.  In another scene, she listens to private investigators theorizing about her husbands whereabouts and watches stealth footage of his infidelities with vulnerability.  But despite some great moments and a whimsical style, I’m not sure Juliet holds up among Fellini’s best.  While we could easily dismiss its lack of narrative structure, its lack of a more accessible protagonist is what truly limits its appeal.  I welcome the rare occurrence of having a middle aged Giulietta Masina at the core of a quirky film like this, but it lacks a level of cohesion that would not only make her worthy of our investment of time otherwise, it fails to create an experience that feels significantly more relatable.

Juliet of the Spirits Jaime  2 March 2014

Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:

While I really enjoy the unpredictability of a Fellini film, there’s a part of me that wants to reject such a fanciful world – one that sometimes feels as though it’s art for the sake of art.  In other words, I feel compelled to question what it’s really all about.  As Ebert’s review points out, “Juliet is not an attempt to identify with Masina’s point of view”, and perhaps that’s what makes this film less accessible to me.  I would have to agree with the common consensus that views Juliet as mark the beginning of Fellini’s decline.  While I agree that “you get your best look at an artist’s style when he’s indulging it”, I’m not sure my viewing experience would be greatly altered just by knowing that Fellini is really just being full of himself in this film.  Much of Ebert’s review is spent either making comparisons to La Dolce Vita or wondering what Fellini’s marriage to Guilleta might have been like during the shooting of this film.  The fact that Ebert goes as far as mentioning that it’s largely this type of subtext that makes the movie more interesting should be seen as a sort of warning sign that Juliet doesn’t really stand up on its own.

Good, Bad or Great Movie:  BAD

Do you like Juliet of the Spirits?  Do you consider this film to be Good, Bad, or does it stand up as Great?

Next week’s review:  Yojimbo

Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, a monolith of celluloid currently comprised of approximately 363 films (more if you count the trilogies, the Up docs and Decalogue).  Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response.  By taking on Federico Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits this week, he now has 352 under his belt and less than 15 films left to go.