Cinema is Truth: Juliet of the Spirits (1965)


Reviewed by Brittany Alyse

Directed by Federico Fellini. Screenplay by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Flaiano and Brunello Rondi.

“Suzy is your teacher. Listen to her. Follow her.”

Psychedelic sorrow. Technicolor madness. Spirit worlds. Extravagant costumes. Vivid mysteriousness. Truth and fantasy. A swirling ride that has the power to both free you and terrify you. These are things you would expect from two things: a dream, or a Fellini film.

(This one’s about a Fellini film.)

JULIET OF THE SPIRITS is a cluster of mysticism, Catholic mythology, social norms, the loss and gain of love and the female mind.

Juliet is a married housewife who craves emotional intimacy from her husband that she does not receive. The film kicks off with a seance party in which Juliet, her husband and her friends contact two spirits, Iris and Olaf. The spirit of Iris gives a message of “love for everybody”, while Olaf gives some less respectful messages aimed toward the women, and to Juliet specifically. A series of weird events following this seance lead Juliet down the rabbit hole of her psyche when she discovers that she is being betrayed by her husband. Her worst fear is then realized: her love is not good enough.

Upon this discovery, Juliet timidly frolics through visions of light and darkness, rehashing her inner conflict with her marriage, sexuality, social norms and her femininity as she is visited by both real entities and ones from the spirit world. It’s a circus. An artistic fever-dream that forces Juliet out of her controlled emotions. The emotion pouring out from her at any given moment, whether its shown through her sad, delicate smile or through her watery, sorrowful gaze, is so palpable.

Throughout her journey and the many encounters she has throughout the film, the budding and oh-so-damn-delightful encounters with Suzy is ultimately what saves Juliet. Suzy is a free-spirited, sensual woman who opens Juliet’s eyes to how exciting life could and should be. The voice of the spirit Iris reminds Juliet two times during the film: “Suzy is your teacher, listen to her, follow her”. Through Suzy, Juliet has experiences. Artistic, sexual, empowering experiences that push her out of her comfort zone. I believe these encounters with Suzy encourage Juliet to make her decisions by the end of the film: to live greatly, look damn good doing it, and most of all get liberated.

Some could look at this film and think it’s more style over substance because of its stunning visuals, oddities and costumes, but it’s so much more. It’s a film enriched by its artistic imagery, both of exquisite and grotesque nature. But at its core, the story is a colorful and experimental statement on feminism and expression.

Originally, I looked at NIGHTS OF CABIRIA as Fellini's love letter to his wife. But, the more Fellini I see which star Giulietta, I’m realizing that they are all love letters to her. There is no one like her. She is my favorite on-screen face. Through her magnificent eyes shine the weight of Juliet’s troublesome past and present in the most beautiful, heartbreaking ways. The divine female empowerment achieved by the very end of the film makes this wild adventure so beyond worthwhile. I advise you to see it with your mind open and bask in the weird and stylish world that Fellini has built for us.

Trust me. You’ll thank me for this delicious treat later.

Brittany Alyse