After the dizzy heights of All About My Mother in 1999, the films of Pedro Almodóvar hit something of a plateau. The next four were all just a little too convoluted, while the two most recent, The Skin I Live In (reviewed earlier here) and I’m So Excited were, for all their surface glitz and glamour, just plain poor. So his latest offering, Julieta, comes as a huge relief.
We first meet Julieta as a middle aged mother who has been catastrophically estranged from her only daughter. And for the first two thirds of the film, we discover in an extended flashback what it was that caused the breech between them as we delve into Julieta’s past. And then in the film’s final third, we return to Julieta as she is today, alone and abandoned and drowning in guilt.
The film is based on three short stories by Alice Monroe, who is far from an obvious fit for the exuberant Spaniard. Like the other great short story writer of our age, William Trevor, Monroe’s characters lead apparently drab and so say ordinary lives, in which small gestures speak volumes, and many of the conflicts that haunt their lives remain unresolved.
Almodóvar on the other hand is the modern day master of the 50s melodrama, and it’s hard to reference any of his best films without sighting Douglas Sirk or Alfred Hitchcock. So like them, he too likes to propel his narratives with broad, brushstrokes that produce an outpouring of emotion, which he brings to fruition thanks to his exuberant, cinematic expressionism.
So there is a slight sense of incongruity about the way he tells this story, and the kind of stories he has used to source the film.
Furthermore, in yet another nod to Vertigo and, more obviously, Buñuel’s That Obscure Object Of Desire, he has cast two different actresses in the title role, with Emma Suárez playing the older Julieta, and Adriana Ugarte playing her as the younger woman. Which further adds to our sense of distanciation, as you occasionally find yourself thinking of the older and younger actresses as representing the mother and daughter relationship. And you have to remind yourself that the actual mother and daughter in question are the character of Julieta and her daughter.
All of which was very much a conscious decision on the part of Almodóvar. He was trying, if you like, to make a stripped down Almodóvar film. One in which the emotional highs and lows you normally associate with his films have been reigned in.
What you think of the resulting film will largely depend on what you think of that decision. It’s still, for all its relative restraint, a wonderfully engaging film on an emotional level. It’s just not quite as emotionally explosive as you might have hoped for, especially given the story it tells.
But I quibble. To all extents and purposes, this is a welcome return to form for one of Europe’s most talented film makers. And you can see the trailer for Julieta here.
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