FILM REVIEW: JULIETA (2016) DIR. PEDRO ALMODÓVAR
Written by Belle McIntyre
Julieta is something of a departure from what we have come to expect from the great Pedro Almodóvar. And it reveals him to be masterful in whatever mode he choses. Based on three short stories by Alice Munroe, we are launched into the present where an attractive, middle-aged Julieta (Adriana Ugarte) is preparing to decamp from her slick, modern apartment in Madrid to move to Portugal with her partner, Lorenzo (Dario Grandinetti). It looks like “all systems go” when a chance encounter on the street with one of her daughter’s school friends who tells her of a recent sighting she has had of Antía, from whom Julieta has been estranged for the last 12 years. Julieta is completely taken aback by this reminder and the years of deeply felt and deeply buried pain return with a vengeance. All of her forward momentum is derailed and she goes spiraling backwards.
She breaks the news to Lorenzo without explanation and moves back into the old apartment where she lived when Antía was still with her. Her whole life shifts into retro. The apartment is the opposite of her modern one with eccentric, boldly-printed wallpaper, and old-world charm; and Julieta becomes a haunted, carelessly-dressed cipher walking around Madrid as if in a dream. For a time Lorenzo is stalking her to try to determine what has caused this radical change. Eventually she sits down and begins writing a journal to AntÍa. As the story unfolds we go back to the young Julieta (Emma Suarez), a spunky, spikey-haired, peroxide blond, an unlikely looking Classics teacher.
While traveling on a train to visit her Alzheimer-afflicted mother a suicide sets her whole life on a different track. She meets Xoan (Daniel Grao) on the train, the man who will become her husband and the father of Antía. When they meet, Xoan’s wife has been in a coma for five years. Julieta’s life seems to be punctuated with significant events which totally alter her trajectory. The unfolding details are leaked out in flashbacks which are thoroughly engrossing as the threads eventually braid together. The recurring themes are secrets and silence. Things which feel like betrayal but maybe are not. The misunderstandings which can lead to devastating reactions and emotional damage are integral to the the twists and turns of the story.
The story telling is so superb that I remember thinking as I was watching the film that it felt as if I were reading a book - or better than that - as if I were being read to. The set design, wardrobe choices and cinematography are gorgeously Almodóvarian and completely in service to the wholeness of the story. In short, there is not a false note. It is a totally satisfying experience and demonstrates, yet again that no one portrays women better than Almodóvar.