Eric Rhode and Peter Morris may be correct and incorrect, respectively, that Federico Fellini’s Giulietta degli spiriti fails as “his intended variation on the legend of St. Anthony” and “could lay justifiable claim to being his best [film]”; but it is gorgeously color photographed by Gianni Di Venanzo, indeed spirited, and intermittently honest to some purpose beyond a slick postmodernist joke. I am referring to the fact that 8½ (1963), with a similar penchant for phantasmagoria, had been a complete waste apart from Di Venanzo’s gorgeous black-and-white photography. Some find beguiling the idea of a film with nothing to say about the making of a film with nothing to say. I have nothing to say.*
Giulietta, a wealthy woman with a cheating spouse, fearful he will leave her, experiences dreams—memories, fantasies and a mix of the two—that eventually emancipate her. Giulietta is beautifully played by Giulietta Masina, Fellini’s wife, as a provincial, superstitious type, and the archetypal nature of her dreams renders irrelevant whether they are all hers or really Fellini’s; unless we are obstinately resistant, we press the path by which we arrive at wherever they lead. Giulietta degli spiriti is Fellini’s Divine Comedy. It is most penetrating, perhaps, on the Church’s role in keeping the protagonist in a closeted, childlike state, sometimes in absolute terror. This (presumably) changes.
Fellini is most interested in uncloseting, unfettering, his own imagination, and those seeking a feminist film aren’t apt to find one here. But nothing in the marriage that the film portrays is helped by either Italian patriarchy or the guilt-generating Church that structures this. Giorgio, the husband, isn’t complacent by default. He is absorbed by a mindset that Fellini the filmmaker roundly assaults, no matter what Fellini the husband might say.
* But see Pacze Moj’s brilliant analysis of the traffic jam in 8½, on his Critical Culture site, at this address: http://criticalculture.blogspot.com/2007/05/8-12-traffic-jam.html.
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