Director: Pedro Almodovar; stars Emma Suarez, Daniel Grao, Inma Cuesta, Adriana Ugarte, Rossy de Palma, Dario Grandinetti. 99 minutes.
Julieta marks Almodovar’s second decade directing feature films. Coincidentally it is also his 20th feature film. Julieta is in sharp contrast to the high-flying camp comedy I’m So Excited (Los amantes pasajeros) released in 2013. This comedy was Almodovar trying to be his old cheerful, over-the-top, dirty-minded self – the narrative littered with sex, drugs and inuendo. It is a throwback to his earlier outrageous, black comedies and sits uncomfortably within the directors recent oeuvre during which the director crafted his finest work that includes All About My Mother (1999), Volver (2006) and Talk To Her (2002).
Julieta is Almodovar back on top form with a narrative as nuanced and complex as any Hitchcock drama. Julieta is arranging to leave Spain with her partner Lorenzo who is unaware of the split between Julieta and her daughter, Antia, twelve years earlier, during which time Julieta has had no contact or knowledge of her daughter’s whereabouts. By accident she encounters Bea, who was her daughter’s best friend and who informs Julieta of her recent encounter with Antia. Thrown into despair Julieta cancels her plans to leave with Lorenzo and moves back to her old apartment in the hope that her daughter will return. By day Julieta scours the streets of Madrid, while in her apartment she writes a letter to Antia, explaining events that lead to their separation.
Exploring complex issues of estrangement, grief and loss Julieta is comparable to Talk to Her and Volver, with the narrative firmly focused on Julieta’s journey. While there are several amusing moments this is drama and not comedy with illness and death affecting several characters, so much so that I wondered whether the director is contemplating his own mortality!
As Julieta, Emma Suarez is remarkably nuanced and measured emoting the pain and fragility evident through her circumstances. Almodovar is a master at gaining extreme emotion from his actors. Julieta Serrano’s devastated scream at the end of Dark Habits (1993) echoes from the depths of her soul and has to be one of the most searing, gut-wrenching moments in cinema. Here it is as Julieta sees Lorenzo and staggers into the road, pain and desolation etched into her face. There is no sound, no scream but from her movement, her expression, her pain is evident in what is one of the most powerful scenes of the movie.
Almodovar ensures that the focus firmly remains on Julieta. There are no marginal characters such as Agrado (All About My Mother) to distract attention. That said he still explores issues of adolescent sexuality in relation to Antia and Bea and, as if wanting to add his trademark statement, has an androgenous male appear in one of the opening scenes – blink and you will miss him. This is a film during which the director utilises every moment of screen time. At no time does the action ease or the narrative lose focus. My only criticism is that once or twice the Julieta’s voiceover is too lengthy. Rather than allow dialogue between Julieta and Xoan during their train journey the director has Julieta recount their conversation.
Of the many actors and collaborators Almodovar has worked with over the years only two appear in Julieta, Rossy de Palma as housekeeper Marian and Dario Grandietti as Lorenzo. Gone are the talents of the wonderful Chus Lampreave who died earlier this year. Lola and Esther Garcia, long time assistant and producer to the director who have also appeared in other films, are here along with long-time composer Alberto Iglesias whose musical score, as in many Almodovar films, captures the mood and detail perfectly.
Cinematographer Jean-Claude Larrieu demonstrates a wonderful eye for detail both while panning around the streets of Madrid or capturing the intense beauty of the Andalucian landscape.
Julieta is a powerful drama full of depth and meaning. Gorgeous to look at, extremely moving and exhilarating it demonstrates that, now in his mid-sixties, the maetro is still at the top of his game. A five-star treat.