Juliet of the Spirits [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Cult Films
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (13th September 2018).
The Film

Oscar (Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Color): Piero Gherardi (nominated) and Best Costume Design, Color: Piero Gherardi (nominated) - Academy Awards, 1967
Golden Globes : Italy (winner) - Golden Globes, 1966
David (Best Actress): Giulietta Masina (winner) - David di Donatello Awards, 1966

Juliet (The Nights of Cabiria's Giulietta Masina) is a housewife living in a modern villa in the countryside, with little to do than spend the day toiling with her maids (Elisabetta Gray and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie's Milena Vukotic) in preparation for her wedding anniversary. Her intended intimate dinner intimate dinner is not in the cards when her publicist husband Giorgio (Toto in Hell's Mario Pisu) arrives home with an entourage, including sculptress Dolly (We Were Seven Widows's Silvana Jachino) and her current model (Long Hair of Death's Giorgio Ardisson), the family solicitor (Cesarino Miceli Picardi), Juliet's flighty divorcee friend Valentina (Day for Night's Valentina Cortese), and medium "Genius" (Satyricon's Genius). Cajoled into participating in a s้ance, Juliet is contacted by a feminine spirit named Iris whose message is "Love for everybody" and then a more aggressive spirit named Olaf who calls Dolly a whore and a tramp. Deeply unsettled by the experience, Juliet's ill ease goes unnoticed by her mother (Salo's Caterina Boratto), elder sister Adele (Identification of a Woman's Luisa Della Noce), and younger actress sister Sylva (Lisa and the Devil's Sylva Koscina) and is jovially advised by her doctor (Felice Fulchignoni) to ignore her imagination and focus on leisure and sex. In bed, Juliet overhears her sleeping husband utter the name "Gabriella" twice but he claims ignorance the next day before Valentina drags her to the Plaza Hotel to see an appearance by mystic Bishma (Diary of a Lost Girl's Valeska Gert) who subsequently grants her a private audience. When Juliet reluctantly admits her suspicion that her husband is unfaithful to her, Bishma tells her that she needs to get in touch with her body and her sensuality, and "procure" pleasure from her husband. Juliet scoffs at the advice until Bishma conjures up the warring voices of Iris and Olaf, as well as a third that offers her something that "quenches the thirst of those who drink it." That night, she meets Giorgio's Spanish bullfighter friend Jose (Breakfast at Tiffany's's Jos้ Luis de Vilallonga) but is disturbed by her attraction to him. Seemingly more out of concern for how Giorgio's infidelity will affect her socially, Adele drags Juliet to a private detective agency who ask her probing questions and promise results within a week. Juliet believes the spirit known as Iris to be that of a circus performer that her grandfather (Last Embrace's Lou Gilbert) ran off with and scandalized the family when she was a little girl, until she finds a cat in her garden and returns it to the villa of her new neighbor Suzy (8 1/2's Sandra Milo), an imperious hedonist who holds sway over an entourage of obsessive Russian poets, suicidal models, and aged Middle Eastern suitors (and their young virile sons), a woman that the voice of Iris tells Juliet will be her teacher; however, repressed memories of her childhood – including traumatic experiences in Catholic school and the suicide of a classmate – take on the form of apparitions that disrupt her waking life and intermingle with the living.

Director Federico Fellini's first Technicolor film moves from the semi-autobiographical into the confessional, spinning the inner workings of Fellini's mind, its obsessions and concerns, into a occult exploration of the inner life of a woman awakening to her martial dissatisfaction and the past (and very present) demons haunting her and undermining her sense of self. Predating the American seventies "self help" craze split between psychology and mysticism, the "spiritual " awakening takes the form of the occult – in a manner as stylistically influential on the likes of Rosemary's Baby as on Italian horror's turn from the gothic to the more sexually and graphically violent fantastical, particularly The Perfume of a Lady in Black and Suspiria – with the presences of Iris and Olaf seemingly positive and negative but also seeming to balance each other out. Iris' seems to voice Juliet's intuition but it guides her to Suzy who may be too reckless for Juliet, while Olaf's abuse towards Dolly may be voicing what Juliet should think of the fashionable promiscuity of her friends as a good Catholic, seeming to represent the oppressive influences of her mother and sister; both, however, might been seen as tempering Juliet's vulnerability to fakers and believers offering up shallow advice. The only truly positive influence in Juliet's life seems to have been her grandfather who may have traumatized her in disrupting her performance as a child in a school pageant as a future saint passively enduring her martyrdom by being burnt alive but whose "escape" with the circus performer she has fantasized as happening by airplane she envies. From a detached perspective, her journey might be seen as navel-gazing, gleaning symbols out of her everyday life, the monotony of which includes sights that could easily be confused with apparitions for the extravagance of other characters' dress and leisurely pursuits. While Massina is visually set apart from the costumes and sets of Piero Gherardi (La Dolce Vita) and the bright, mobile Technicolor photography of Gianni Di Venanzo (L'Eclisse), her expressive performance prevents her from being just another of Fellini's presences gliding along to the scoring of Nino Rota (The Godfather). Her nuanced reactions to her everyday life and its diversions as well as new sensations keep the viewer guessing just what she will do in reaction with even the cacophony of voices in her head – the spirits and recollected words of her family and friends – offering no real clues as to how she will come out the other side of her journey which is actually less episodic upon subsequent viewings. While perhaps offering uncomfortable insight into Fellini's thoughts on married life and undertaken with Fellini initially pressured to shoot in color, Juliet of the Spirits is an achievement of an auteur with the ability to invest an intimate subject with a sprawling mise-en-scene in which all of its visual extravagances are nevertheless part of a cohesive (if not fully-formed) whole.

Video

Released theatrically in the United States by producer Angelo Rizzoli's own American distribution arm – other titles of which would be picked up for wider release by other companies after the initial run – and in the United Kingdom by Miracle Films, Juliet of the Spirits' premiere length was widely recorded at 144 minutes, but has since been released in shorter versions, with the U.K. getting two VHS editions running just over two hours (PAL speed). Image Entertainment's non-anamorphic 1.66:1 letterboxed DVD from 1999 – from a master provide by Sceneries Distribution – was the first digital iteration of the 137 minute iteration that has persisted through Criterion's 2002 Rialto Films restoration and Mediaset's 2003 Cinema Forever digital restoration that has been the basis for other DVD editions internationally, including Medusa's Italian DVD edition and Nouveaux Pictures' 2005 UK DVD. Sadly also sourced from the aged Cinema Forever master, Cult Films' 1080i50 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray is only pleasing on the surface. Colors are richly saturated and the image loses the overly warm look of the Criterion master, looking more like the color scheme of the Image DVD. In direct contrast to the Criterion, it looks overly bright, but the eye adapts to the newer master's levels of light and shadow and the Italian looks more like a Technicolor film than the Criterion; and the mood of darker scenes here is not spoiled by the overall brightness. Unfortunately, it is an older master with overscan matting creating a windowboxed image, and a lack of detail is event when the camera holds on a face, piece of clothing, or set dressing long enough for the eye to seek out texture, aliasing is evident in fine lines (including the fence bordering the house in the final wide shot), and macroblocking is evident in the darkest areas of the frame. Consequently, one of Fellini's most ravishing uses of Technicolor comes to Blu-ray looking like upscaled DVD.

Audio

The Italian LPCM 2.0 mono audio fares better since it is a 16-bit encode of the master tape's uncompressed audio. As with the Image DVD, the optional English subtitles do not translate Koscina's French quotation - which the Criterion DVD did - and the medium is called "Pigja" as listed in some references rather than "Bishma" as in the Image and Criterion subtitles.

Extras

While the transfer is nothing like Fellini fans would hope, Cult Films' disc is accompanied by a pair of thought-provoking extras. In the audio commentary by film historian Kat Ellinger of Diabolique Magazine and the Daughters of Darkness podcast, Ellinger eschews production anecdote and cast/crew biography in favor of discussing the biographical details of Fellini and Massina, half-speculatively on how the film mirrored Fellini's thoughts on marriage and specifically his marriage to Massina. She suggests that, while the film was conceived around Massina, Juliet actually represents both Fellini as well as his feelings about the unhappiness his tax evasion arrest and infidelities (among them actress Milo) brought to his wife, while also noting that other characters at times perhaps embody aspects of Fellini (noting that Latin lover Jose's dubbing voice may have indeed been dubbed by Fellini himself). She also discusses Fellini's burgeoning interests in psychoanalysis and the occult around the period, as well as Massina's hatred of his unglamorous treatment of her which Ellinger suggests stems from his idolization of her (noting the childlike aspects of even her turn as prostitute Cabiria). "Dazzling Spirits" (14:36) is a video essay by Professor Guido Bonsaver who poses the question as to whether the film is a feminist work or just a man's visualization of the inner life of women, in addition to more biographical and anecdotal information about the production.

Overall

While not an anywhere near definitive visual presentation of a Fellini film, Cult Films' Blu-ray of Juliet of the Spirits does offer opportunity for reassessment with extras that will provoke reflection.

 


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