Juliet of the Spirits (1965)


Third time with Fellini after 8½ and La Dolce Vita. Prefer this one.

Mountains Holy and Magic: baroque Jodorowsky bombast signalled by procession of pointy hats, four-poster beach gazebo, unrelenting funhouse score; breathtaking motion as well, camera rarely at rest. Procession of character intrusions and Buñuelian scene-shifts like the randomised logical patterning of a dream. Yet also a deep melancholy vein running throughout: cold truths through séance and technology; an individual seemingly developing between the strain of two contradictory worldviews, yet for me J’s story is not ultimately liberating but  tragic.

Psychodrama: the neighbour’s underground pool, sunbathing naked among the trees – dangling liberation-through-indulgence. (the Spanish tempter: “the bull dies within an illusion” – giving in is taking control?) But the haunting presence of Arlette upstairs, silent and watching, suicidal “dying for love.”

J watching the footage of her husband’s infidelities. “Things could be more innocent than they appear.”

The very best thing about this is Giulietta Masina. Throughout she is brilliantly understated; smiles tug quietly at the corner of her lips, watchful round hazel eyes taking in too much. (“Our kind lady Giulietta sees mysteries everywhere”) Perfectly plays the theme of return to childhood: her first scene (the whirling, devotional preparation for the anniversary dinner) is like a Disney assembly; the school play, which is the crowning scene, like Guido’s fantasised party in ; the claim of common hallucinations in childhood. (“I only had to close my eyes” – to what extent do these visions come from ignoring [naivety?] the world around her?) She is our guide and when she breaks down we feel very unstable.

(On that school play and the alchemy of cinema: Contemplacio in the N-Town ‘Mary Play’, “the matere here mad is of þe Modyr of Mercy” – not effected but affected, not the real deal; ancient question of Christian ritual performance and reality vs representation, importance of interpretation. Before pushed out onstage J’s nuns tell her that she is preternaturally spiritual and will be contacted (calling back to / foreshadowing her later experience with the séance, all her hallucinations) and goes gladly to the scaffold as an immolated sacrifice. Her father stops proceedings, blasting the nuns for the realism of the play – seven-year olds should not be burnt alive. These scenes haunt J her whole life: they are real memories of artistic representations with an apparent kernel of effective truth that come back to her as hallucinations that have real mental effects on her and to an extent even help liberate her into the ‘real world’. This scene thus encapsulates and facilitates Fellini’s tumbling complexities of image and interpretation.)

In fact JotS improves the more J is the focus – the technicolour pageants can become cluttered when decentralised. (although the tensely erotic party uses nimble movement to frame statuesque beauty) As the world closes in on her the delusions become pretty distressing, tending towards Brazil.

Leading finally to exiting the gates. ‘Wandering steps and slow’, as well as Buddha (after the earlier medium – liberation). View taking in the tall trees, natural noise – a glimmer of hope after a stretch between two unappealing extremes of devotion and abandon. But there is the question of whose vision this is; a lot of the allure of JotS is through doubt and ambiguity, like a sad film running underneath a joyous one.


7 May:

Today picked up a copy of Optimum World’s dvd box Fellini Collection, containing La StradaNights of Cabiria, and The White Sheik – tempted by the combination of one tentpole, one classic of neorealist juvenilia, and one comic unknown, but subsequently discovered that all three star Masina, which should be the real selling point. Reading about Fellini’s life and development, growing post-50s interest in Jung and experiments with LSD in 1964 – 1 year after and 1 year before JotS: “All I perceived was perception itself, the hell of forms and figures devoid of human emotion and detached from the reality of my unreal environment.” Fairly standard but still interesting to read in light of 60s shift towards the hallucinatory and empirical: 8½ is the former, oneiric, but we see JotS through Masina’s eyes, which contributes to the difficulty of distinguishing the visions of director and actor. Liked 8½ a lot but prefer this ambiguous entry through GM to the less empathetic cool of Marcello Mastroianni. I also did a terminally boring quiz yesterday in which I got points over a toweringly clever lit student for recognising “with wandering steps and slow.” He, however, got points over me for recognising a scene from La Strada.


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