DIR/WRI: Pedro Almodóvar • PRO: Agustín Almodóvar, Esther García • DOP: Jean-Claude Larrieu • ED: José Salcedo • DES: Antxón Gómez• MUS: Alberto Iglesias • CAST: Adriana Ugarte, Rossy de Palma, Inma Cuesta
Earlier in the year I wrote an article discussing my most anticipated movies of 2016. I included Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar’s Julieta on that list stating: “Any Almodóvar’ film, even the ones that don’t entirely work, are generally worth seeing”. His trademark blend of comedy, tragedy, melodrama, irreverent humour, sex and glossy décor is unique. One can always tell when one is watching an Almodóvar’ movie whether it’s his horrors (The Skin I Live in), his dramas (Broken Embraces) or his comedies (What Have I Done to Deserve This?). That said, Julieta is one of his more conventional films.
Based upon three short stories from Alice Munro, the movie focuses on the titular heroine who attempts to reconnect with her long-lost daughter by writing a journal explaining her life up to now. The film is set in both the past, in which Julieta is played by Adriana Ugarte and the present, where she is played by Emma Suarez.
Upon its festival run Julieta was accurately described by various critics as “subdued” and “polite”, words not typically associated with its vibrant director. Perhaps its Almodóvar’’s love of the source material (he paid homage to Munro’s literature in The Skin I Live in) but he doesn’t seem to have injected much of his own personality into the film’s story. Munro’s work has been described as “mellow” and in paying respect to this quality of the short stories, the director fails to add a sense of urgency. Events just happen, without creating much tension as supporting characters drift in an out to push the plot forward. Throughout there are brief flashes of Almodóvian strangeness such as a humorous interaction between Julieta and the students she teaches Greek mythology. However, these moments are not enough to elevate Julieta above being mildly interesting.
That said, Almodóvar does bring his trademark visual flair to Julieta. The film is a joy to behold as the director jam-packs his frame with so many bold, primary colours. Julieta’s clothes and jewellery, her home, the coastal town where she lives with her fisherman husband, Xoan (Daniel Grao) – everything looks absolutely exquisite.
While Emma Suarez performance is a little stilted as the older, broken Julieta, Adriana Ugarte is rather fabulous as her younger incarnation. She begins the film with a radiance in both her attitude and looks but as the film progresses she becomes less and less lively, devolving into Suarez’s fifty-something melancholia infected character. It’s a subtle performance where one doesn’t immediately realise the changes Julieta undergoes as life begins to take its toll on her.
Yet, despite these pleasures, Julieta feels a little hollow, leaving the viewer with the unmistakable feeling that something is missing. Its score resembles a thriller’s, but there are no thrills. It’s a family drama where the family are missing for the majority of the time. Perhaps Almodóvar was aiming to convey a sense of emptiness (something implied by the movie’s abrupt ending). Like the film, Julieta is missing something, her daughter. Either way, Julieta is still a mixed bag. It’s great to see Almodóvar return to the women-centred films that brought him international success and to witness his aplomb for creating colourful movies. However, one can’t help but wish the film was as bold narratively as its visuals.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Julieta is released 26th August 2016