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Julieta – Movie Review: “Almodóvar’s intricate tale of guilt”

2 September, 2016 — by Douglas Clarke-Williams0

julieta film poster

Julieta is the story of one woman’s life, but really it’s two stories: of the young and the old; the innocent and the hurt. Adapted from three separate stories in Alice Munro’s collection ‘Runaway’, Pedro Almodóvar weaves the frayed threads of his narratives into a beautiful tapestry which is as expansive as it is intricate.

The titular character is played by two actors: Emma Suárez as the older in our present time, and Adriana Ugarte as the younger and more energetic incarnation some 25 years in the past. Part of what makes this film so impressive is how easy it is to believe that these two women are just two aspects of the same person, and we have no problem grasping how the essence of Julieta is seamlessly shared between them.

One particular scene in which the younger Julieta has her hair dried by her daughter Antía (played by Priscilla Delgado and Blanca Parés at various points along the timeline) only for the lined and downcast face of Suárez to emerge from under the towel, seemingly world-wearied in an instant, is a great example of Almodóvar’s deft handling of the double-act.

julieta film still

It’s Suárez to whom we are first introduced, stalking the streets of Madrid in sunglasses which would make anyone else look like they’ve just had cataract surgery but makes Suárez look like a stylish but ineffably melancholic bug. She bumps into a familiar young woman who brings fragmentary news of Julieta’s daughter, and in doing so swings an icepick against whatever psychological carapace was holding our eponymous figure together.

Julieta returns to her apartment to write out a memoir for her estranged daughter; an attempted explanation – and with that we are off, thrown with a wonderful jolt a quarter-century prior to learn how it all began.

It’s the two central actors – Suárez almost bent double with the weight of her pain and regret, and Ugarte filled with all the passionate intensity of youth – who are the twin nuclei around which the film revolves, but they are well served by an excellent supporting cast. Daniel Grao is languidly handsome as Julieta’s lover Xoan, while long-time Almodóvar accomplice Rossy de Palma is as ever a unique presence in her role as the housemaid Mariam.

Julieta film still

The real star of the piece, however, is Almodóvar’s gorgeously stylised imaginings of the world through which his characters pass. In her younger years Julieta is teacher of classical literature, and the film itself abounds with symbols and signs which at times pierce the story like lightning.

Just as the characters desperately strive to shake out the entrails of their lives for messages of meaning and purpose, so too do we scan the clues which Almodóvar parades before us – a stag galloping alongside a train, a rough and broiling sky of clouds – to get a sense of the creator of this particular reality.

There are also more straightforward signs, as the camera pans past posters for films you want to see and the covers of books you want to read; this is a movie which wears its intellectuality on its sleeve.


But as much as anything Julieta is a film about the way in which guilt winds its way through a life, erupting stoloniferously when it’s least expected (or wanted). It would be easy for this film to become suffused by its own melancholy, but it’s rescued by Almodóvar’s wonderful eye for colour and setting. In almost every scene there is some joyous visual aspect, a place for the eye to rest while the characters burrow deeper into themselves.

Whether it’s the bright peroxide shock of Ugarte’s hair when we first encounter her on a train speeding through darkness, or the greenly fertile expanse of the Pyrenean foothills, the film is a joy to simply just watch.

Julieta is, ultimately, a thriller, the suspense being whether the mother can discover what has happened to the daughter before she goes so far into blaming herself that she can never return. But mostly it feels like a real coming of age film; partly for Julieta, but also for Almodóvar. This is a mature, intelligent and complex picture which is nonetheless still filled with the kind of energy and visual confidence which marked the director of films like All About My Mother and Live Flesh as such an exciting presence.

At the age of 66, Almodóvar is showing that while the young may have passion, it is the grown-ups who have heart. 4/5

Check out the rest of the latest cinema releases in our new movie reviews section, including War Dogs.


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