“I don’t care about the clemency you offer me but the salvation of my soul.”
‘Juliet of the Spirits’, directed by Federico Fellini in 1965, is an Italian fantasy starring Fellini’s own wife Giulietta Masina. Giulietta (the character) is a wealthy, middleclass housewife who is married to an unreliable man and is locked into a mundane life. Her neighbour Suzy is free-spirited and eccentric (and in a Fellini movie, eccentric means eccentric), and, through her encounters with her strange friend, Giulietta finds herself slipping into fantasy and nightmare as she tries to understand herself. It’s the flipside of ‘8 ½’. If Fellini’s 1963 movie was about himself, using Marcello Mastroianni as a personal avatar, in this film the director takes a step outside his own problems and attempts to see his actions from the perspective of those around him. The preoccupations with sex, memory and religion are still present, as is the use of surrealism, but in ‘Juliet of the Spirits’ it is almost obsessively through the eyes of his wife and not him. There are other ways these two films complement each other: ‘8 ½’ is cool, monochrome and snappy; ‘Juliet of the Spirits’ is languorous, colourful (it’s Fellini’s first full colour movie) and romantic. It’s easy to slip down a dizzying path of interpretation here, imagining that this is the Fellini-fied story of what happened to his wife when he was making ‘8 ½‘, and possibly an attempt to redress the balance of their relationship. As with all of his work, the story is less important than the symbolism. It is effectively a series of increasingly frightening, occasionally funny, encounters with eccentrics and flashbacks to Giulietta’s childhood of religious instruction. It’s a rich, deeply personal and deeply ambiguous movie that not only requires multiple rewatching, but seems to suggest that Fellini is doing something complex with his movies at this time.
It’s a film that shouldn’t just be paired with ‘8 ½’ as a double bill, but should be spliced to the earlier movie – in a sense they are inseperable.