film, Movie Crash Course Review, movies

Juliet Of The Spirits (1965)

I learned the term Felliniesque before I ever saw a Fellini film. That tripped me up a bit – because the term is based on Fellini’s later work, all magic-realist tableaux and surrealist symbolism, clowns and parades and people speaking in non sequiturs. So his earlier films, like La Strada and Nights of Cabiria, were somewhat unexpected; they’re the films that put Fellini on the map. This film feels more like the Fellini I was expecting.

I was equally surprised to find that…despite the wackadoo imagery, I kind of got it. Giulietta (Giulietta Masina) is a middle-aged housewife, frequently left alone by her husband Giorgio (Mario Pisu). Occasionally she babysits her twin nieces, or visits her much more exuberant mother or sister, or entertains friends; but most often, it’s just her and the maids at home, tending to the house and the garden. Then the vivacious Suzy (Sandro Milo) moves in next door, giving Giulietta tantalizing glimpses of what looks like an elaborately decadent lifestyle. Giulietta is intrigued, but shy – but as her fascination with Suzy grows, so does the realization that her husband is having an affair. So maybe Suzy is someone she should get to know – she may be a good influence.

It’s a bare-bones plot, because here, it’s the imagery and fantasy sequences that are carrying the day. Giulietta dreams about her grandfather – who ran off with a dancer when she was a child – imagining him hijacking a stunt plane at a circus, as dream/child Giulietta watches the dancers and acrobats. She has visions of the nuns from her school, flashing back to when she was cast as the lead in a pageant play about a virgin martyr. Her hippie-esque neighbor drags her to see a spiritual guru, who advises Giulietta to learn how to be more decadent as Giulietta imagines the various tantric statues surrounding his seat all coming to life.

Those sequences are more definitively “visions” for Giulietta, but even “reality” can get a bit eye-popping – particularly when Giulietta meets Suzy, who always seems dressed in diaphanous dresses with short hems and billowing scarves. Suzy’s cat strays into Giulietta’s yard one day, and when she goes to return the stray, a grateful Suzy invites her in for a tour – showing her around a lavishly decorated mansion, introducing her to the friends lolling about (“we’re playing bordello,” Suzy says in passing) and showing her how the master bedroom has a slide leading down to an in-ground pool so she can go for a swim immediately after having sex. And just outside is a treehouse, equally as lavishly fit out and complete with a basket on a motorized pulley so she can bring her paramours up for a romp.

Suzy’s house is so gloriously over-the-top it came across as fantastical even though it was “real”. And in fact, that’s what finally made me realize that as wackadoo as Fellini was, it all had a point – we were looking at Suzy’s house through Giulietta’s eyes, after all, and maybe what we were seeing wasn’t clinically accurate, but rather we were seeing it through her own emotional filter. Suzy’s guests are all half-naked and constantly leering at her, Giulietta’s friends are all vapid and ridiculous; the visions of the nuns keep coming back to scare Giulietta into staying in her place. What we’re seeing here is Giulietta’s inner life, not just “wacky stuff”. And when I realized that, the somewhat sparse final scene – with Giulietta simply taking a walk in the woods – suddenly felt much more poignant.

It’s almost like Fellini knew what he was doing, eh?

2 thoughts on “Juliet Of The Spirits (1965)”

  1. My read on this was that Giulietta has to learn to free her self and accept extramarital philandering as a good thing. Fellini defending his own philandering an the more poignant as Masina was his actual wife. Rather creepy, i think.


    1. I’ve read that Giulietta Massina and Fellini had a bit of a debate about that final scene – Fellini was arguing that it was positive because of what you say, that Giulietta was “free”, but Massina was arguing that it was sad because “she is alone.”


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