[Film Review] Julieta (2016)

Julieta poster

Title: Julieta
Year: 2016
Country: Spain
Language: Spanish
Genre: Drama
Director/Writer: Pedro Almodóvar
based on the short stories of Alice Munro
Music: Alberto Iglesias
Cinematography: Jean-Claude Larrieu
Emma Suárez
Adriana Ugarte
Daniel Grao
Inma Cuesta
Rossy de Palma
Darío Grandinetti
Joaquín Notario
Priscilla Delgado
Blanca Parés
Michelle Jenner
Susi Sánchez
Nathalie Poza
Mariam Bachir
Agustín Almodóvar
Pilar Castro
Ramón Agirre
Sara Jiménez
Rating: 7.0/10

When in Madrid these days, for a cinephile, it is remiss to miss the chance to watch Almodóvar’s latest drama in the cinema, earlier than its Cannes debut later in May, and there is an afternoon screen with English subtitles catering to Anglophones.

Adapted from three short stories from Alice Munro’s RUNAWAY and transposed the story to the modern-day Madrid, in the opening Julieta (Suárez) is a middle-aged woman who is going to embark on a new chapter with her boyfriend Lorenzo (Grandinetti), moving to Portugal. But a chance encounter with Beatriz (Jenner), her daughter Antía’s old friend, jolts her to change her mind, she leaves Lorenzo and relocates to the apartment where she and Antía had lived in Madrid, where she unlocks the door of her hidden memories, the past comes rushing in.

In the flashback, a young Julieta (Ugarte), at the age of 25, met Antía’s father, a then-married fisherman Xoan (Grao) on a night train, they engaged a passionate consummation after witnessing a suicidal incident, Julieta was pregnant. By the time of their next meeting, Xoan’s long-time bed-ridden wife would just pass away, and a new nuclear family would form. But, when Antía (Delgado) was away on a summer camp, a tragedy happened, the aftermath would result in Antía’s pertinacious determination of not contracting Julieta ever again, after leaving for college. So back to the present day, after learning about the news of Antía for the first time in 12 years, it is understandable that Julieta cannot make peace with the painful secret, will she finally get the forgiveness from her only daughter? Or, whether or not she should be blamed?

It is a guilt trip for Julieta to stressfully unveil her side of experiences, two deaths, although are not directly caused by her, but somehow, she feels accountable, Munro’s judicious dissection of one’s inner inquiry about life’s capriciousness feels a tad solemn and innately incongruous with Almodóvar’s wheelhouse, maybe after his previous outlandishly self-indulgent romp I’M SO EXCITED (2013), he decides to go dead serious this time, only the end product is defective in both witty enlightenment and emotional catharsis when all the plot-line is laid bare.

Multi-colored palette is still Amodóvar’s unvarying trademark, strewed in the film’s contemporary settings and costumes, Suárez and Ugarte are not Amodóvar’s regulars, but both shoulder their narrative with engaging gusto, and the requirement of the former’s performance is more challenging, and Daniel Grao, presents himself with unabashed allure, but, it is Rossy de Palma as a blunt-talking maid, steals the sole laughter and imprints with a singular mark on how a close-up of her intense stare can summon so many unsaid judgements from her character.

JULIETA cleverly ends before heading into a more conventional reconciliation, it all leaves up to audience’s own imagination. Honestly speaking, Almodóvar is a marvelous story-teller, his knack of telling a run-of-the-mill story with a captivating arc, and his earnest sympathy on female characters, bodes well for his auteur reputation, even though JULIETA doesn’t reach the height one might have anticipated, it is not at all a fiasco in any regard, but a pardonable misstep, which actually happens to almost all the venerable filmmakers.

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