Celebrating its golden anniversary, Federico Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits remains one of the esteemed director’s most fanciful and entertaining films; its sparkling joys untarnished by the passage of time. The film stars Fellini’s muse - and wife of 50 years - the elfin Giulietta Masina as a naive young housewife with seemingly every advantage the world has to offer: a luxurious country estate, two servants at her beck and call and a hard-working, successful husband (Mario Pisu). But Masina’s domestic bliss is soon shattered when she begins to suspect him of having a affair with a mysterious woman named Gabriella. Heartbroken, Giuletta begins a bizarre, appropriately Fellini-esque quest for clues. Her journey morphs into a voyage of self discovery, as she revisits formative moments from her past, asserts her independence and becomes friends with a highly eccentric neighbor (Sandra Milo) who may or may not be a flesh and blood incarnation of Satan.
Juliet of the Spirits marked Fellini’s first production in color - full blown, three strip Technicolor to be precise - but the director showed no signs of being intimidated by this new format. The film is a visual feast, rendering Fellini’s trademark baroque splendor in stunning swirls of eye popping hues. The story proceeds as a series of narrative set pieces, each becoming ever more elaborate and surreal. Hooded nuns solemnly affix wings to the backs of small children, an extravagant treehouse built for all manner of debauchery and the emotional baggage of Giuletta’s past piled onto a makeshift garbage truck are but a few of the film’s unforgettable images. Nino Rota’s original score is no slouch either. Charted for jazz ensemble, the cheesy tones of a combo organ evoke just the right flavor of 1960’s cool.
Clearly, Juliet of the Spirits is one of Italy’s first feminist films from a modern perspective. While Fellini made several films with Masina - and in all of them she faces significant obstacles - this is the first to loudly proclaim that a woman doesn’t necessarily need a husband to find happiness and, in some cases, she may be better off without one. Regrettably, as of yet there is no official Blu-ray available of Juliet of the Spirits. The Criterion DVD on offer from Netflix is 13 years old, and while it looks very good, one can only imagine the wealth of detail that would be unleashed by current transfer technology. Let’s hope this oversight is corrected in the near future.