WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
I've never been a particular fan of Federico Fellini's work, finding it inaccessibly bizarre (as in Satyricon), but I must admit that his 1965 film Juliet of the Spirits is a fascinating, refreshingly subdued, and warm look at a woman's spiritual awakening.
The film starts off with a linear narrative: Juliet (played by Fellini's own wife, Giulietta Masina) is enthusiastically preparing a candle-light dinner to celebrate her 15th wedding anniversary. Unfortunately, her husband Giorgio (Mario Pisu) has forgotten and has invited a gaggle of strange socialites for a spontaneous party at his place, dashing Juliet's quiet hopes for an intimate evening of celebration. Nevertheless, she joins the party and eventually even takes part in a seance, which affects her mysteriously.
At this point, the movie becomes a true Fellini film, infused with dream imagery and surreality. As Juliet discovers that Giorgio is unfaithful to her, Juliet begins to undergo an inward liberation, at the same time dealing with bombarding personalities from every direction: One of her sisters (Sylva Koscina) is an uppity television host; another sister (Luisa Della Noce) suggests coldly that Juliet hire a private dick to rat out Giorgio; her well-preserved mother (Caterina Boratto) is somewhat domineering and manipulative. Everyone except Juliet seems to be determining her destiny. Finally, her beautiful neighbor Suzy (Sandra Milo) offers psychological refuge, and Juliet's mindscape explodes with memories and fantasies.
It's interesting to watch Masina act in this film full of grotesque, often erotic imagery. You have to wonder what was going through her mind as her husband practically masturbated with his camera—to all the imagery except for the image of his wife. She really comes across as plain in the film, with all the circus-like imagery swirling around her. Nevertheless, Masina gives a strong, if sad, performance.
There's certainly the feeling that in this film, Fellini is playing delightedly with a new toy—color film. It's a self-indulgently gorgeous film whose images call attention to themselves. The story proceeds almost as an afterthought to the film's imagery, and true to Fellini's style, the real seems to merge with the unreal until you're unsure which realm you're inhabiting at any given moment. The film effectively drops its audience straight into Fellini's subconscious.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Criterion presents Juliet of the Spirits in an anamorphic widescreen transfer of the film's original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio. Detail is wildly impressive for this 37-year-old film. Even the source is amazingly clean. Although there is inevitable wear and a few specks, those instances are few. One of the more important aspects of this Fellini film is its color—this is Fellini's first color effort—and this transfer boldly brings across a rich color palette. Blacks are deep, providing a satisfying foundation for a rainbow of colors. I noticed no instances of edge enhancement. Everything being relative, this transfer deserves my highest rating. It's really a remarkable effort.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The Dolby Digital 1.0 track (in Italian, with English subtitles) gets the job done. The track contains inevitable—if minor—loss of fidelity. High ends in dialog are somewhat thin, but music flows naturally.
The only supplement worth noting on this disc is a full-frame 21-minute BBC documentary (produced in 1966) called Familiar Spirits, in which actor Ian Dallas interviews Fellini. In the interview, Fellini speaks English in an accent eerily reminiscent of Father Guido Sarduci. He is open and generous with his comments about his films and his creative process, talking about inspirations, style, and his approach to screenwriting. He also discusses shooting his first film is color.
The disc also contains the theatrical trailer for Juliet of the Spirits in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
Criterion offers another gorgeous presentation of an important film. Juliet of the Spirits, as Fellini's first color film, finds the director discovering a broad new palette with which to explore his surreal philosophies and fantasies.