Thursday, August 2, 2012

Self-Indulgence

Film: Giulieta Degli Spiriti (Juliet of the Spirits)
Format: DVD from NetFlix on kick-ass portable DVD player.

Okay, I’m just about done with Federico Fellini, and I’ve decided that this is a good thing. So far, Fellini has been hit or miss with me, and the emphasis has been much more on the miss side. I’ve liked a few, but those I haven’t liked, I really haven’t. This is relevant because I’m going to say things that will likely seem untoward to a film that is regarded as one of his great films--Giulietta Degli Spiriti (Juliet of the Spirits)

Like a lot of Fellini, this one stars his wife, Giulietta Masina. She is Giulietta Boldrini, a simple woman who believes her husband is getting a little something-something on the side. This causes her to start a spiritual quest to find herself and discover what it is she really wants. It starts with the desire to emulate her open and plainly sexual neighbor, Suzy (Sandra Milo). Eventually, this leads to enlightenment. In short, it’s a decadent, hedonistic version of Eat, Pray, Love with a lot more sexual overtones.

This is really all that happens. Giulietta goes from place to place to get advice and discover what she should do next. The advice she gets typically relies heavily on the spiritual and supernatural, and Giulietta doesn’t fail to heed it in most cases. She encounters strange mediums, odd gurus, steep hills to climb, and deep valleys to fall into. The entire film is the process of Giulieta goesfrom a restrained little unobtrusive hausfrau into an independent woman capable of pleasing herself and (importantly in the realm of this film) pleasing her husband.

Yep, that’s the final analysis of this film—the reason that Giulietta’s husband Giorgio (Mario Pisu) is unfaithful to her is that it’s all her damn fault. If she wasn’t such a prude, or hung up on religion as much, or sexier, or whatever, he wouldn’t find it necessary to stray. How progressive. When the woman messes up, it’s her fault, and when the man messes up…it’s still her fault. It’s weirder than that, though, since Masina was married to Fellini. Essentially, he’s having her star in a film that proclaims it her fault that he’s a philandering bastard. Happy anniversary, honey! I’m going to create a film that tells the world that you’re a frigid bitch!

I suppose there’s a lot more going on here, too. Giulietta relives a number of events from her past, and many of those events come forward into the present, sort of like ghosts of her former life. Naturally, many of these are fairly accusatory, blaming her for a lot of her problems. We also meet a colorful mix of people who seem to all have a better handle on living well and enjoying life far more than Giulietta does. Why? Well, they’re all hedonists for one thing. It’s all sex, sex, sex.

What’s really interesting to me is that it feels like this is the start of this sort of filmed hedonism that increases in Fellini’s own Satyricon and culminates in the reprehensible Salo. I didn’t like it in either of those films, and I didn’t like it much here. It’s all just indulgence and self-indulgence at that, and always at the expense of everything else. It’s never (at least here) that this pursuit of hedonism needs to cause upset or pain in others—it’s simply that the upset or pain of others is never really considered. No one is specifically trying to hurt anyone else, but they don’t care if that’s what happens. It’s much like the idea that hating someone requires effort. It requires thought. It’s far easier to simply not consider them at all. If all I care about is my own pleasure, I don’t care if you’re enjoying yourself or dying.

I’ve also finally gotten a handle on my opinion of Giulietta Masina. I liked her in Nights of Cabiria and didn’t much care for her in La Strada. But now I get her, or at least have a way to describe her. She forever looks like someone in the moments after someone else has made a joke that she doesn’t get. She always looks like she’s laughing self-consciously and mostly because she’s not really sure of what’s going on around her. She’s eternally naïve, even when that doesn’t work for the character or the film.

The most damning thing about Giulietta Degli Spiriti, though, is that now, less than an hour after I finished watching it, I have virtually no memory of watching it. I found it difficult to pay attention to. My mind wandered the whole time, and I would find myself looking across the room at something else, “paying attention” in the sense that I knew the film was still rolling, but not even bothering to read the subtitles. I did go back a few times, but eventually, I decided that it’s not entirely my fault that the film couldn’t hold my attention.

And so, Giulietta Degli Spirit simply washed over me, and I walk away from it wondering if I really watched it at all. I tried. I just can’t care about these self-centered people worried only about where their next lay is coming from. They don’t interest me, and I can’t think of a single reason why they should.

Why to watch Giulietta Degli Spiriti: Because there’s only one Fellini.
Why not to watch: Watching someone else’s complete self-indulgence is completely unsatisfying.

7 comments:

  1. *virtual high five*

    I really enjoy your description of Giulietta Masina; that made me laugh.

    My pervasive memory of this film is the practically Technicolor hues. Nothing about plot. Which, given it's Fellini, doesn't surprise me.

    It's a'ight, man. It's not my least favorite Fellini, but I was very "meh" about it, which, based on your thoughts, you were too.

    Fellini anti-fan club, right here.

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  2. Fellini's 1960s transformation really doesn't resonate with me. I love Giulietta but dislike most of the movies she's in--is that possible? BTW, just a note, Salo, thankfully does not belong to Fellini but to Pasolini--take some comfort in that.

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    1. Yeah, I know it's Passolini, but there really is a thematic connection between them. I'm not 100% sure Salo would have been what it was without Fellini lighting the way.

      I like Masina, too. She's better than most of her films.

      @sio--so, should we get like t-shirts or something? Matching bracelets?

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  3. It's not your fault you didn't like it, it's not Fellini's fault, it's her fault!

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  4. I haven't seen this, but I've seen enough of Fellini's other work by now to know that he and I seem fated to not get on. Always nice to know I'm not the only person who doesn't get one of the great auteurs.

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    1. There's something about him--a hedonism vibe, I think--that stands in my way of really enjoying what he does. I can't explain it any other way.

      Evidently, siochembio and I are starting a club. Want to join?

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