Directed by Pedro Almodóvar.
Starring Emma Suárez, Adriana Ugarte, Daniel Grao, Inma Cuesta, Michelle Jenner, Darío Grandinetti, Rossy de Palma and Mariam Bachir.
The film spans 30 years in Julieta’s life from a nostalgic 1985 where everything seems hopeful, to 2015 where her life appears to be beyond repair and she is on the verge of madness.
Decadent and emotionally enveloping, Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar’s latest is a thoughtfully sumptuous portrait detailing the fragility of family, and the viral nature of guilt. Arguably his finest work since 2006’s Volver, the master of melodrama brings humanity and heft to cruel subject matter with Julieta, and has delivered a product which although unmistakable, is also essential.
Adapted from three Alice Munro short stories, this shattered reflection of loss and yearning actually plays out like a twisted suburban thriller; one quilted in mystery and suspense. For every tonal shade of his past repertoire, Almodóvar colours the next with a Hitchcockian brushstroke.
Those familiar with titles such as All About My Mother (1999) and Talk to Her (2002) might be alarmed by the sheer lack of wry humour here, and those yet to see an Almodóvar picture may leave unravelled by the film’s denial of a clear-cut conclusion for the titular character, but if you like your cinema challenging and enthralling, look no further.
Emma Suárez is electrifying as Julieta, a doleful and woebegone woman ready to pack her life in Madrid and move to Portugal with her partner (Darío Grandinetti). But a chance meeting with a childhood friend of her estranged daughter, Antía, slams the brakes on such future plans. Motions to progress forward reverse and she finds herself occupying the apartment block where mother and daughter used to reside. From here our protagonist begins penning a confessional memoir; filling in all the ambiguous blanks for Antía, which transports the spectator back to the 80s where we meet our scribe in her more youthful years, played with palpable finesse by Adriana Ugarte.
Bleach-blonde and spiky-haired, she serves as a classics teacher who shares a romantically-charged encounter with Galician fisherman Xoan (Daniel Grao) upon a night train which kick-starts their daughter’s odyssey. Following Antía’s birth, the film details the expansion of their lives and loves, until the predestined separation which consumes the disconsolate mother of present day.
On paper, Julieta sounds unrelentingly melancholic, but this could not be further from the truth. Almodóvar’s deft understanding of cinematic language ensures that his film is soulfully orchestrated; colour palettes awash with ravishing reds and zesty yellows, cinematography rendered with hazy sunshine soaking cobbled streets. Introspective as his narrative may be, such attention is paid to giving his film a real sense of visual grandeur.
Perhaps the picture’s most impressive detailing comes from Antxón Gómez’s exquisite production design. The locations of Almodóvar’s latest – particularly domestic – are jagged reflections of our character’s poignant journey. From the noisy and cluttered spaces laden with memories and misdemeanours, to sparse, erased walls, populated with eternal nothingness. A clean slate, but one which has rubbed away what is most precious. Paired with the spectacular costume work, and underpinned by the aching ambience of Alberto Iglesias’ mesmeric score, Julieta truly benefits from a resonate sense of place, which only hardens the tonal silence of our heroine.
Almodóvar has tackled complex themes of depression and loneliness before, and is a regular for crafting fractured females longing for what they deserve, but there is a rare subtly here which is delicately overwhelming. A lightness of touch and a welcomed simplicity somehow deepens the sombre richness of his characters and their voyage, giving weight and validity to their motives and their feelings. And such simplicity highlights his skilfulness as a filmmaker. Hauntings of a past existence echo through finite physicality, and in the eternal quietness of a splintered relationship lies the foundation of meaningful drama.
Despite climaxing with notable coldness, Julieta sweeps with elegance and stings with sorrow. It is a fantastically realised piece from a curator who truly understands the power of thematic nuance and texture.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★