“Julieta”: Almodóvar + Alice Munro with a Dash of Hitchcock

Pedro Almodóvar has made over 30 films. Even if you haven’t seen a lot of foreign films, chances are that you remember hearing about Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Volver. He’s worked with Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz and is a household name in Spain. He’s known for using bright colors, having bold sex scenes, high energy characters and his films are sprinkled with sharp wit and humor.

The film opens with a tight shot of Julieta (Emma Suárez), a middle-aged woman wearing a bright red shirt. She’s holding a bright blue envelope which she throws away with intense emotion. Julieta is packing her home to move to Portugal with her lover.

Her plans change when she runs into Bea, the estranged best friend of her daughter Antia. She learns that Antia is married with children and we learn that here lies a vast and painful divide.

The blue envelope is retrieved from the trash and Julieta delicately lays out the torn pieces revealing a  photograph of she and Antia -the story of their past unwinds. Julieta journals her story in hopes that she may be able to share it with her daughter someday. We resurface in her past, when at 25, (played by Adriana Ugarte) she took a train ride that forever changed her life.

julieta-poster

The choice to use two actresses for the part of Julieta works well with Almodóvar’s masterful direction. As the trials of the young Ugarte pile up, we feel her become Suárez and the artful switch is glorious.

The screenplay is based on three short stories by  Alice Munro, (“Chance”, “Soon” and “Silence” from the book “Runaway”.) Viewers will be left wondering which stories hold which threads of the story and how they were so seamlessly grafted together.

Julieta is recognizable as an Almodóvar film in some ways, for example, throughout the film the colors red and blue are a repeated representing hot and cold, joy and depression. This film has none of his trademark humor, exchanging it for a stark honesty and Hitchcock-esque intensity that makes Julieta more like a psychological thriller than traditional drama.

Part passionate love story, part mysterious missing person tale, Almodóvar spools and releases details keeping the audience anxious for each scene. The performances are all natural and engaging with the witchy Marian (Rossy de Palma) and the seductive Galician seascape adding to the folktale intensity. This is a film for those who don’t mind working a bit to unravel deeper levels of a story. For people who appreciate bold visuals and who crave intelligent stories told for adults.

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Writer: Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Emma Suárez, Adriana Ugarte, Daniel Grao, Rossy de Palma
Runtime: 99 minutes
Release date: December 26, 2016 – (January 20, 2017 in Houston)

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