Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Juliet of the Spirits (Federico Felilni, 1965)

If Fellini doused the story of 8 ½ with elements of the surreal then when it comes to Juliet of the Spirits, he submerges the film entirely in bizarre dreams and hallucinations and doesn’t let it come up for breath. What results is a cartoon under the guise of a prestigious art film. The genius of 8 ½ is that the subjective visions and flashbacks are on one level psychodrama and on another parodies of psychodrama, critiquing Guido as he tries to compartmentalize his life based on clichés of Catholic guilt and male fantasy. Juliet of the Spirits relies on the shopworn Fellini images and scenarios invoking similar themes—a school stage production of a martyr burned at the stake, a licentious father flying away with his young mistress and an exotic otherworldly sex party—but emboldens them until they become garish symbols and bases for the heroine’s day-to-day behavior and pseudo-meaningful Freudian determinants. Of course the film is so silly that it’s impossible to really put stock in any of them; the ending retraces 8 ½’s steps by accumulating all the arbitrary mysticism into one big hellish mass that Juliet must rise above or surrender to, except in this case there is no real thrust or structure or suspense. That there is no delineation between reality and mysticism and that it is all just a hodgepodge of overtly psychological projections relating to Fellini’s own marriage to Giulietta Masina may make it a work of genius to some, but I found it a self-indulgent bore, a vacuous showcase for Fellini’s brand of cinema without anything to latch onto. It is some of the best mise-en-scéne I’ve ever seen, and Fellini never fails as a ringleader of his imaginative ghostly carnival, but I honestly don’t think it amounts to much more than unrestrained excess.

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