Saturday, 8 January 2011

AFED #7: Giulietta degli Spiriti [Juliet of the Spirits] (Italy, 1965); Dir. Federico Fellini

In R.D. Laing's classic study of schizophrenia The Divided Self he relates the case of a woman patient suffering with the condition who underwent a remarkable transformation after she became fixated with Federico Fellini's film La Strada.

Through identifying with Giulietta Masina's character and the physical and emotional brutality she suffers at the hands of Anthony Quinn's strongman, the woman was able a process of reassessing her own values and thoughts and begin turning her life around.

It's testimony to the heartbreaking performance given by Masina, an actress often content to live in the shadow of her husband Fellini, but occasionally cast in his films to great effect. Such a work is Giulietta degli Spiriti; a notch or two beneath the maestro's best but ket together by Masina's charismatic turn and with enough trademark flourishes and visual opulence to satisfy fans of the director.


Masina plays - fittingly - Giulietta; a middle-aged housewife who's content to spend her days sitting around watching tv with her maids or tending to the garden. She's also prone to exotic visions, a mixture of memory and unconscious fantasies that give Fellini plenty of scope to play.

When a spirit called forth at dinner party seance conveys to Giulietta the distressing message that she's "nobody" and "forsaken" she's compelled to start reappraising her life, particularly when her husband mumbles the name of another woman in his sleep and she begins to suspect his fidelity.

But for a shy, whimsical woman change doesn't come easily. Should Giulietta follow the hedonistic example of her voluptuous neighbour Suzy? Allow herself to be wooed by her husband's quixotic Spanish friend? Or should she fight to retain her husband? Unless she loosens the grip her visitations have upon her then she won't make any progress at all.

Like Fellini's previous film (1963), many scenes are a swirl of characters and aphorisms, confusing and captivating in equal measure. Masima holds the centre stage throughout and the understated manner not only provides a balance to the extravagance all around her but also draws us into her plight. At the climax we wonder whether she'll to driven to the ultimate recourse and though this seems to be averted the ending is characteristically ambiguous.

One point of curiosity for me was how much, if any, was inspired by the Fellinis' own domestic life. It's notable the Giulietta's husband (played by Mario Pisu) bears a certain resemblance to the director, and that they too have no children.

All in all a very satisfying effort.

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