Julieta Review - Far From A Depressing Film

Pedro Almodovar is unquestionably the greatest living Spanish director, famous for dramatic films with eccentric stories and characters.  An immensely creative and highly original filmmaker, he has received a river of major awards for most of his 20 full-length films.   Many American fans are familiar with his earlier work: Live Flesh (1997), All About My Mother (1999), Talk to Her (2002), Bad Education (2004), Volver (2006), Broken Embraces (2009) and The Skin I Live In (2011).  His films are very stylistic, often focusing on women, whom he considers the more interesting and talented sex.  He grew up surrounded by women and is obviously fascinated by their relationships, struggles and the complexity of their lives.  They are the ones who deal directly with birth and death, the realities of life as Almodovar sees it: “los problemas reales."  Some of his films have been transgressive, especially in a country that emerged from decades of the thoroughly repressive Franco dictatorship in 1975.  He often uses the same actors in film after film and is notorious for shooting many takes to get exactly the result he wants.   Unlike most directors, Almodovar tends to shoot in chronological sequence, rather than being governed by availability of actors and locations.

For his latest film, Julieta, Almodovar adapted the screenplay from three short stories by the Canadian writer, Alice Munro.   He sets the action in Spain, rather than the stories’ original Canada, but retains Munro’s recurrent themes: love, loss, grief and guilt.   The films begins with Julieta, the eponymous central character, a teacher living in an upscale modern flat in Madrid, packing to leave for Portugal with her boy friend going there to do writing.   She had just finished a job, teaching classical studies in a local college, when she runs into a young woman, Bea, who was a close friend of her daughter, Antia, during their teenage years.   It turns out that Julieta has not seen her daughter for 12 years, following the girl’s disappearance after a religious retreat in the mountains.  As a result of her encounter with Bea, Julieta decides to forego the trip to Portugal and stay in Madrid.   She begins writing a journal recounting the events of the past 30 years, which she narrates.   A long flashback shows Julieta as young and unmarried on a fateful train trip, where she has a brief affair with Xoan, a handsome fisherman.   The trip is highly eventful, and includes a riveting shot of a large reindeer running alongside the train in the snow.   Weeks later she travels to Xoan’s seaside house to see him, where she is greeted by his housekeeper, both overly controlling and decidedly unfriendly.  This first half of Julieta, told largely in flashback, could stand alone, but the film snaps back to the present in Madrid. as Julieta continues to narrate her earlier story and reveal more life-changing events.   The entire narrative is complex yet coherent and riveting, with constant twists and turns as Munro's short stories are combined into a single powerful tale.  There is an irony here in that Julieta teaches classical tragedy, while living a life beset by them.   Despite her misfortunes, Julieta is far from a depressing film.

 

Almodovar’s cinematography is never less than gorgeous, and that is certainly true here.  His fascinating exteriors were shot entirely on location in Madrid and Galicia.  Almodovar clearly loves women, which is evidenced here by the ravishing costuming of his female characters.   Julieta almost always wears something dramatic, usually red against nearly monochromatic interiors.   The walls of the various apartments are hung with name contemporary art, much of it immediately recognizable.  In a first for this viewer, the art is listed in the credits.  Almodovar uses Alberto Iglesias, one of his favorite composers, for the lush soundtrack which emphasizes the mystery revealed in the storyline.  Even without any dialogue, this would be a memorable film.



Because Julieta’s story spans 30 years, Almodovar cleverly changes actresses half way through and does it in a surprising way that is entirely convincing, since both actresses (Adriana Ugarte as the younger Julieta, Emma Suarez as the older) resemble each other.   He does the same thing with Julieta's daughter.  The acting, as in all of Almodovar’s films, is outstanding.  Even minor characters are well drawn.  Julieta is a very accomplished film you will find yourself replaying long after the closing credits.  It is a tale told well, powerful and moving.  I loved it.  By all means, one for the big screen.  Running time: 99 minutes.   Opened several weeks ago at the Clay and the Rialto Elmwood, but strangely has not opened in any other theaters in the Bay Area, a distribution pattern I observed recently in 20th Century Women.   And like that film, it seems probable that Julieta will open more broadly.    Ciao, Ian

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