Acclaimed filmmaker Pedro Almodovar’s latest effort Julieta stays true to his form of detailed character study and raw human emotion in a draining but commanding effort by all involved.
Like most of Almodovar’s films, the narrative structure jumps back and forth in time as we are introduced to the titular character at a later stage in her life, about to start a new one by moving to another country with her partner Lorenzo (Darío Grandinetti). The day before leaving Julieta has a chance encounter with one of her daughter’s childhood friends, whom she hasn’t seen in years and is told (to her surprise) that she has spoken to her daughter, Anita. For reasons yet unknown Julieta cancels her plans with Lorenzo to stay in Madrid.
It is here Almodovar takes us back 30 years to fill in the gaps and see what makes Julieta’s irrational behaviour, well, rational. A young Julieta’s chance encounter and passionate night on a train with a handsome stranger called Xoan (Daniel Grao) changes her life forever, as she falls pregnant and ends up living with him in a seaside fishing village where they raise their daughter, Anita. To go any further with plot details would only hinder Almodovar’s story as we occasionally cross back to an older Julieta to fill in the gaps.
As per usual, the director gets the very best performances out of his actors. Both actresses who portray Julieta; Emma Suarez (older) and Adriana Ugarte (younger) give the character the full emotional struggle and range the story demands, and you’re with them every step of the way. Every other supporting character keeps Julieta’s journey immersed in a fragile state of love, hope and loss.
But it is Pedro Almodovar’s show and he proves once again that he is up there with the best of them when it comes to showing the best and worst of human nature; The proof lying with Julieta as well as his acclaimed film, The Skin I Live In.
It may not be an uplifting experience by any means, but what we have here is a genuinely flawless character study that more-or-less gets you thinking about Julieta’s decisions and actions, and how they affect the people around her, forcing you to wonder what you would do in her situation.
The original screenplay was written in English, but when Pedro and Agustín Almodóvar went scouting to Canada, the director felt insecure to shoot in a place he didn’t really know, in a language he didn’t master and with a story he felt worked better at Spain.