Pedro Almodóvar has his own voice and his own vision, and he’s stayed true to both from the beginnning of his career. He’s an incredible story teller with no shortage of stories to tell; in fact, he once said that he “can make a thousand different movies about the same subject” (https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/p/pedroalmod587571.html). His frank treatment of sexuality is as bold as his visual style, and his characters are all memorable. His plots are intricate, loaded with twists and turns and weird things that throw in a wrench that takes the whole thing somewhere you never saw coming. He’s a master of exaggeration—it works just as well in his comedy as it does in his melodrama.
Julieta, Almodóvar’s current film—his twentieth feature—is no exception. Like most of his movies, particularly his post-millennial work, this one centers on women. Inspired by three short stories (“Chance”, “Soon,” and “Silence”) from from Alice Munro’s 2004 book Runaway, Julieta is, in simplest terms, the story of one woman’s search for her estranged daughter. There’s a lot more to it, of course, and Almodóvar slowly reveals it all, layer by layer.
Julieta (Emma Suárez) is a middle-aged woman who lives in Madrid with her boyfriend, Lorenzo (Darío Grandinetti). They’re packing to move to Portugal. Julieta has a secret: she has a daughter, Antiá, who checked out of her life more than a decade ago. She happens to run into Beatriz (Michelle Jenner), an old friend of Antiá, on the street. Beatriz gives Julieta some small information about Antiá, prompting Julieta to drop all plans in the hope of her daughter returning. She begins writing a journal, which turns into a flashback that tells us what happened.
Some 30 years before, young Julieta (Adriana Ugarte) meets scruffy fisherman Xoan (Daniel Grao) on a train. He’s married, but his wife is in a coma. He knocks up Julieta, who receives a letter from him and visits him at his home in a small Spanish fishing town. They decide to raise Antiá together there. When Antiá (Priscilla Delgado) is a teen and away at camp, Julieta and Xoan have a fight that leads to disaster. Julieta doesn’t tell Antiá everything, and it comes back to bite her.
Nothing by Almodóvar ever sucks, but I’ve found his work to be up and down after All About My Mother. It’s to be expected from an artist with a long career, Madonna being a good example. His last project, 2013’s I’m So Excited, was fun but certainly not his most compelling. Julieta, however, is solid—I say it’s his finest hour and a half since Volver. It’s not a light film—it’s an elegant, emotional slow burner that deals with regret, omission, and forgiveness. Ugarte and Grao are both hot, and they have a palpable chemistry. Casting Rossy De Palma as Xoan’s longtime passive-aggressive housekeeper is a nice touch.
With Inma Cuesta, Blanca Parés, Pilar Castro, Tomás del Estal
Production: El Deseo
Distribution: Warner Brothers (Spain), Pathé, 20th Century Fox
(AMC River East) B+