Juliet Of The Spirits (DVD)
After stretching the bounds of neo-realism until it began to look like dreams in La Dolce Vita, Federico Fellini made his official break with the semi-autobiographical 1963 phantasmagoria 8 1/2, which netted him the greatest acclaim and widest audience of his career. Two years later, he returned with Juliet Of The Spirits, which nearly finished him. More or less a "she said" answer to 8 1/2's "he said," the film stars Giulietta Masina as a stay-at-home wife who suspects her husband has begun to stray. Masina was both Fellini's real-life wife and star of the early Fellini triumphs La Strada and Nights Of Cabiria, which lends the project a dual layer of discomfort: Her testy performance seems to reflect their much-reported marital strain. In Cabiria and La Strada, Masina's emotive acting served as its own special effect, but in Juliet, she's forced to compete with hermaphroditic prophets, burning children, and what was by then becoming a predictable circus-of-life assemblage of the grotesque and the sublime. In a vintage BBC segment included on this new DVD version of Juliet, British actor Ian Dallas speaks of Fellini as achieving "the same freedom with film as a writer with words." This film, to stretch the analogy, takes Fellini from the postmodernism of 8 1/2 into the realm of free association, and it doesn't quite work. For all his character's flaws, Marcello Mastroianni never seemed less than sympathetic in 8 1/2. Here, Masina seems less a character than a linking device between fantastic asides, a familiar face around which to construct a head film. As head films go, though, few could match Juliet. Amid the odd characters, jarring imagery, and (for the first time in Fellini's career) wild colors, there are moments of power and beauty that only the director could create. For all the self-conscious artificiality, the film's heart is sincere. Though Juliet is sometimes misguidedat one point, a spirit guide takes Masina to task for not being more like her sexy film-star neighborFellini created it as a tribute to his wife. Even the hocus pocus comes from the couple's enthusiastic belief in the supernatural, but a different faith, the belief that his subjective dream world would translate into film magic, began to define him after a certain point. Films like Juliet are the reason the term "Fellini-esque" can be used both as a compliment and an insult.