Sunday, 11 October 2009


“Illusions commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead. We must therefore accept it without complaint when they sometimes collide with a bit of reality against which they are dashed to pieces.” - Sigmund Freud

Yesterday we watched a Fellini film, his first colour feature, in fact. It was the 1965 “Giulietta degli Spiriti” (Juliet of the Spirits). The film starred Fellini’s wife Giulietta Masina, in one of her finest performances as Giulietta, the downtrodden, rooster-pecked wife of Giorgio (Mario Pisu), a philandering insensitive oaf of a man. A host of obnoxious relatives and hangers-on complete the cast with some amazingly outré screen presences by Sandra Milo, Valentina Cortese, José Luis De Villalonga, Caterina Boratto, Sylva Coscina and Valeska Gert. Reality mixes with fantasy, memories mix with goings-on in the spirit world and the whole movie is a quasi-surrealistic kaleidoscope of colour and movement. Phantasmagoric would be my choice of word to describe the film, which works on many levels and manages to satisfy even a quite demanding viewer. Fellini’s mastery of the director’s art is evident in full flight in this movie.

The plot is quite insubstantial and could be summarised in a few sentences. Giulietta, a naïve, superstitious, simple woman is in love with and married to Giorgio. He cheats on her with “Gabriella”, a name he murmurs in his sleep and which is overheard by Giulietta. She is persuaded to investigate the spirit world in order to “become happier” by her pushy and eccentric family that brow-beat her. Her memories of a repressive childhood surface as she begins to explore the spirit world and as she discovers her husband’s infidelity. She is tempted to cheat on him on him by the voluptuous Suzy, her neighbour. The film traces Giulietta’s path to liberation.

The plot is embroidered with multicoloured silken threads of narrative, sub-plots that twist and turn as well as pure whimsy. Fellini was having enormous fun making this movie and it shows. Self-indulgent full flights of fancy are hard to come by in cinema, but Fellini scores well in this film. Some of the costumes (and especially the hats) are grotesquely rococoesque and amazingly, contribute so much to the telling of the story! Perhaps what helps the story-telling the most is the colour. This may have been Fellini’s first colour film but he used colour like a master artist. Every screen sparkles and coruscates, pure bold masses of colour alternating with drab, greyish browns that complement Giulietta’s often virginal white garb. Colour is happiness, gaiety, abandon, lust and unbridled sexuality, while the darker shades and white represent restraint, repressed emotion, celibacy and innocence. When Giulietta dons the bright red dress, she has decided to take charge of her life (even though this decision may be undermined by insecurity, doubt and lack of resolve).

Giulietta Masina proves her worth as a consummate actress in this film and a single glance, a twitch of her eyebrow, a slight tilting of her head speaks more than a thousand lines of dialogue. Her transformation from an innocent, apparently happy middle class housewife to a knowing, self-assured, experienced but crushed woman is apocalyptic. The last scenes seem to me to indicate that Giulietta has venged herself. Once again it’s her eyes that seem to indicate her actions. Her insistence to help preparing Giorgio’s meal before he leaves to join his mistress makes me think that poison is on her mind. But is she only thinking about it, or did she do it? Fellini teases us.

One disappointing aspect of the film was Nino Rota’s music. I am no great fan of any of his music. His cheery band-like tunes jangle too much and in some places jar and detract from the images on the screen. Occasionally, his march-like jingles will marry with the cavalcade of images on the screen, but overall, I found the score a great let down. It may be argued that the music contributes to the irony of the plot, but I needed something more sympathetic with Giulietta’s character. One scene when Giorgio’s friend, the mysterious Spaniard who Giulietta is tempted by, strums the guitar in the garden is quite magical and more in tune with the spirit of the film (all puns intended!)…

See it, it’s worth it!


  1. I'll bet there's a few wives out there who've thought about poisoning their husbands :D I guess there's only so much messing about a person will take before they get fed up and call a halt, or just go completely off the person....poisoning seems a bit extreme, but in keeping with the surreal-like atmosphere of the film.

    Sounds like an interesting one to watch!

  2. Sounds like a way out movie, Nic. I'll see if my video store has it.

  3. This is one of my favorite Fellini movies. As you say the sense of the surrealistic is quite amazingly conveyed and brilliance of the colours, costumes and settings is mind-blowing.
    I had not really considered that Giulietta had it in her to poison her husband but now that you said it it puts a whole new slant on the ending! Must watch it again one of these days.