Released in 1965, Giulietta Degli Spiriti it was the first Fellini film in colour, as well as one of the many he worked on with his wife and renowned actress Giulietta Masina, who plays the lead role in this film. It’s also for the first film where the extreme visual surrealist style of his films that he’s know for really started to ramp up to new, dizzying heights.
It was just over a week ago now that I got back from playing a “quartet” of shows in Italy, arriving in Venice to incredibly dense fog then jumping into an Italian car with manual stick on the right side of the road (a combo I’ve never done before) to head to Bologna. There was a show there followed by two performances in the province of Marche: one in the medieval hill-top city of Fermo and another at a beach resort club called Copacabana at the seaside town of Porto Recanati. The weather was almost like summer. Even friends local to the area said it was unusually hot for that time of year.
With one final show, I left the house of my friend and booking agent Michele in the hilly countryside near Osimo and started the somewhat long drive back up to northern Italy to play at a countryside club called Krach Club up in Treviso, near Venice. Again the later part of the of the trip returned to the dense fog, mirroring the beginning of the trip.
But on that drive up north I made the effort to squeeze in a very short trip to the old medieval city of San Marino, in the small republic of the same name. From there I made an even shorter stop in the nearby Italian city of Rimini, right on the coast. I was literally there to have a cold drink and have a brief rest on the beach, which despite the summer-y weather of the time was quite empty, it being late October. I really wanted to squeeze in that short break to Rimini — although it’s known for it’s famous beaches and perhaps it’s imagery of Italian beach-side synth discos of the 1980s, it is also the home of the famous Italian director, Federico Fellini — and I suppose that was my main reason for that short visit.
I probably don’t need to get into a back-story of Fellini. The influence of his films is everywhere, including those of Terry Gilliam (Brazil, 12 Monkeys) and David Lynch (Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet) to the point where the adjective “Fellini-esque” is used to describe cinematic traits that are synonymous with any kind of extravagant, fanciful, even baroque image in the cinema and in art in general. For me there’s a mood, pacing, imagery and the way the shots are framed that are unmistakable.
Although Fellini’s most popular films are La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2 — which are both excellent in their own regard — I personally haven’t really identified as much with them as much as some of his other films. This may be in part due to the fact that I don’t really identify with the protagonists. In both of these films that role is acted out by Marcello Mastroianni; a somewhat typical middle-aged male character lost in his own work, somewhat aloof and somewhat insensitive. This type of character I’ve never really identified with — not that that I have to like characters in films. Sometimes I like watching films where no-one is likeable. Perhaps that’s the misanthropist in me allowing a bit of detachment from things.
However, Giulietta Degli Spiriti — also known my the English title of Juliet Of The Spirits — is a different story and I suppose it’s my favourite of his films — and perhaps one of my top favourites of all time. Released in 1965 it was his first film in colour, as well as one of the many he worked on with his wife and renowned actress Giulietta Masina, who plays the lead role in this film. It’s also for the first film where the extreme visual surrealist style of his films that he’s know for really started to ramp up to new, dizzying heights.
Masina plays a housewife in the film to a charming yet somewhat distracted husband (Mario Pisu) who is always travelling on business trips. Giulietta starts to suspect her husband is having an affair an in her investigations befriends her “bohemian” neighbour (Sandra Milo) who is an independent, strong and free-spirited individual. Going about her day to day business entertaining family and friends, as well as instructing the staff in the household, Giulietta starts having strange, surreal visions as she suspects her life changes around her on the knowledge of her husband’s infidelity. These visions, memories, and mysticism overall take her on a journey to help her find the strength to leave her philandering husband.
As someone who is prone to vivid daydreams and visions myself, there was a strong connection to Masina’s character as she navigates through this mental world to come to her ultimate conclusion to leave her home and hushand that is one that’s open to interpretation. I always felt that she had gotten through the worst of it and with coming out the other side she realised she just had the strength to leave and do new things.
There’s some really fantastic visual sequences in this film, including one where Giulietta falls asleep on the beach and envisions a man in a red bathrobe (whom later in the film turns out to be her private detective) pulling a rope out of the sea. This robe is attached to a dishevelled ship full of what looks like extras out of a Mad Max film alongside a raft of dead horses. In the course of her journey she visits a hermaphodite Indian mystic, reflects on her relationship with her eloping grandfather and her Catholic faith.
I’ve always loved how some of these scenes in this period of Fellini looked extremely stylised. For instance, in his 1976 film Casanova, many of the scenes set on the sea are created by using giant plastic sheets in what is obviously a studio stage. This wasn’t a budgetary choice — it was to create a visual that isn’t quite real. Similarily in Giulietta Degla Spiriti many of the locations and buildings that she visits are just too strange and fantastic to appear in real life, bringing the dreamline quality of the film to fore.
And as with most of his films, the soundtrack is provided by longtime collaborator Nino Rota, whose pieces for this film are of more of a quirky, jazz-influenced nature, although can range to very avant garde and discordant at the drop of a hat, such as this piece from Cassanova below, which around the 1m09s mark almost sounds like something Einstürzende Neubauten could have been involved with if they teamed up with Hungarian, micropolyphonic composer György Ligeti: