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The Criterion Collection presents
Juliet of the Spirits (Guilietta degla spiriti) (1965)

"I feel many presences. They've already gathered."
- Valentina (Valentina Cortese)

Review By: Jeff Ulmer  
Published: March 11, 2002

Stars: Giulietta Masina, Sandra Milo, Mario Pisu, Valentina Cortese
Other Stars: José Luis de Villalonga, Caterina Boratto, Frederick Ledebur, Sylva Koscina, Luisa Della Noce, Valeska Gert, Lou Gilbert, Silvana Jachino, Milena Vukotic, Fred Williams, Dany París
Director: Federico Fellini

Manufacturer: IFPI
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nudity)
Run Time: 02h:17m:35s
Release Date: March 12, 2002
UPC: 037429165829
Genre: foreign


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ A-AA- C+

DVD Review

In the hands of other directors, a tale of a woman suspecting her husband of adultery and hiring a detective to expose the truth, would be a straightforward piece of filmmaking. But this is Fellini, and as a film that would provide another piece of his transition from his simpler earlier work, the continuation of the themes brought to light in Juliet of the Spirit's immediate predecessor, 8 1/2, take on a new level of surrealism. From the outset, we enter the realm of illusion, with the entire opening sequence shot as a series reflections in mirrors; the images seem real, but we know they are one-dimensional. Juliet (Giulietta Masina, Fellini's wife in real life), is awaiting her husband's return on their fifteenth anniversary. When he finally arrives, it is clear he has forgotten the occasion, until he reveals the crowd of guests he has brought home with him for a celebration. Among them is a medium, and the evening evolves into a seance, where the psychic reaches across the barriers of the living word to conjure spirits from the dead. As an eerie presence makes itself known, Juliet begins a transformation, and her connection to the spirit world opens wide. When she hears her husband (Mario Pisu as Giorgio) uttering another woman's name in his sleep, Juliet begins to suspect he is having an affair. Confused by what is happening to her, she seeks counsel from Bishma, a transgendered eunuch who channels accusatory voices from beyond to speak to her. When she meets Suzy (Sandra Milo), her flamboyant and sexually liberal neighbor—replete with a treetop pleasure dome, and staging bordello orgies in the afternoons with her friends—Juliet's repressed sexuality is awakened, as well as distant memories of her childhood, and the encroaching spirit realm intensifies her daily existence. As she comes to terms with her husband's infidelities, she opens herself more to the otherworldly presence, and begins to console in their company. In a style only Fellini could effectively pull off, the story unfolds in a dreamlike visage, merging the real and unreal into an entangled mélange, exploring the subconscious and the indistinct boundaries of the dream state in waking life.If the effect is highly ethereal, it does manage to present itself in a less overwhelming fashion than the director's later Satyricon, in which his disjointed use of gaudy spectacle is dark and ominous. Here, the connection to the spirit world is warm and welcoming, as Fellini infuses the film with theatrics, from the use of kugato (puppeteers from Japanese bunraki theatre) to the recurring memories that transfix themselves in the flesh before Juliet's eyes. The film is a metaphor for his real life, as his marriage to Giulietta Masina (star of his The Nights of Cabiria and La Strada) was beginning to dematerialize. The influence of the psychic elements stems from the Fellini's involvement with mediums, included in the cast so they could be close to the couple throughout the production. Masina's performance is brilliant, capturing both the awe of the unknown with the security of knowing she is not alone. The supporting cast is typically eccentric in character, which lends a normalcy to Juliet that otherwise wouldn't exist.Aside from its thematic departures into the abstract, the visual gallantry of the film explodes with spectral intensity. After creating numerous masterpieces in black & white, Fellini's move to color is bold and striking, and there are few who can achieve the richness of color imbued in Juliet of the Spirits. Relying on the talents of cinematographer Gianni di Venanzo (veteran of Antonioni's Le Amiche and Il Grido, Monticelli's Big Deal on Madonna Street, and Fellini's own 8 1/2) , the chromatic depth achieved is provocative, saturated in reds, greens, yellows and blues, all pungent in their display. Shadow and silhouette are also at play, as figures lurk in darkness, outlined by vibrant shards of light betraying their presence as they emerge from the background. Costuming covers the gamut, invoking a carnivalesque montage of flaunted tones with ostentatious pageantry. The image also relies on a sense of depth, created by layering fore- and background objects, framing through portals or curtains, and relaying perspective with tiers of activity. The narrative, while definitely abstract in content, is actually far more palatable than many of Fellini's other films, which can be confusing, to say the least. Fusing fantasies and dreams, Juliet of the Spirits provides a fascinating bridge between Fellini's previous work and the outrageous style that would garner its own bows to the director.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Criterion's anamorphic transfer is nothing short of decadent. Fellini's sumptuous colors retain a vibrancy and richness almost sinful to watch, as deep reds and teals saturate the image. Blacks are gorgeous, and contrast levels are perfect. Detail is remarkable, with no sign of faltering on even the most complex geometric patterns such as elaborate latticework, which typically choke into aliasing or stuttering while panning across them. Fine grain is even and extremely film-like, with only the odd shot here and there calling attention to it. The source is amazingly free of dirt and defects. I had to look long and hard to find anything here to shave off the extra mark for a perfect score, and only some minor compression issues in noncritical areas of the frame allowed me to do so. This looks simply gorgeous.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoItalianno


Audio Transfer Review: The Italian audio track is presented well, but does exhibit a minor amount of source-related distortion, and a hint of excess sibilance. Nino Rota's lively organ soundtrack is balances well with dialogue. Tonal balance is typical of productions of this era, with limited content in the extremes, but what is there is generally smooth and well-defined. This disc does have an easily rectified bug with my particular player: the audio does not play from the main menu. The workaround is to start from the chapter menu.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Fellini interview
Extras Review: The principle supplement is the 21m:28s BBC documentary Familiar Spirits that first aired in 1966, in which Fellini is interviewed by Ian Dallas. This feature covers a lot of ground, exposing many of the inner workings of the mind of one of cinema's most noted directors, and includes excursions to his sets and places that inspired many elements of his work. Fellini comments on his views about directing, casting and filmmaking in general, and some of the insecurities of this most accomplished artisan are presented.A theatrical trailer is also provided on disc, as well as an essay on Fellini. The production history of the film is included on the enclosed leaflet.

Extras Grade: C+

 

Final Comments

Unmistakably Fellini, Juliet of the Spirits is a vibrant and ethereal transition piece for the director, marking his first foray into color in lush and radiant style. Merging the real and the spirit world in a fantastic and dreamlike narrative, alive with color that permeates the screen, this film should be accessible to wider audiences despite Fellini's trademark sojourns into the abstract. Giulietta Masina's mesmerizing performance draws in the elements, as the story of both her conscious and subconscious congeal.

 


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