Starring: Giulietta Masina, Sandra Milo, Mario Pisu
Director: Federico Fellini
Distributor: Umbrella World Cinema
There are so many wondrous visions in Fellini’s dazzling Juliet of the Spirits that every time I see their seamless parade, I fall in love with this film all over again. There’s Suzy, the eccentric blonde bombshell (a favourite Fellini character), resplendent in her yellow top hat and A-frame veil, descending on a deserted Italian beach with her exotic tent and flamboyant entourage; Suzy again, this time in a black version of the outfit, ascending to her forest tree-house in a matching mechanised basket; a circus audience shrouded in white netting, beholding a stampede of elephants. And all the while there’s Juliet (Giulietta Masina, Fellini’s famous wife), either smiling serenely or crying silent tears, the troubled centre of this surreal storm.
Ever since Juliet’s suave husband Giorgio (Mario Pisu) brought home a gaggle of artist friends on their fifteenth wedding anniversary, she has sensed that something is wrong. On that same night she partook in a séance and was visited in turns by a benign spirit and a horribly vicious one. Juliet has a talent for communicating with the other side. Even as a child, faces would appear to her. Her innocent eyes marked her out as a victim and the nuns chose her to star in a school play, ‘Life of a Martyr’, a role that haunts her to this day. Now Giorgio appears to be cheating on her and she must choose between the tyranny of acceptance or freedom and self-realisation.
A fabulous cast of characters present themselves to her, each offering their own advise. Her disapproving mother, who looks a bit like Zsa Zsa Gabor, is one; a strange androgynous oracle is another. And the recurring vision of her grandfather, a wacky old professor who ran away with a circus dancer, provides yet another rather appealing option.
Nino Rota, Fellini’s trusted composer, again provides the soundtrack to which everyone dances, philosophises, dreams and flourishes. And in its absence there is only the drone of cicadas. Piero Gherardi was nominated for Oscars for his art direction and costumes, both of which are truly sublime. Even now, this film encapsulates the essence of art and fashion; original and timeless.