Julieta

This is a review of Pedro Almodóvar’s Julieta.

Pedro Almodóvar’s Julieta is a lengthy study of loss and pain that stretches three decades.

Julieta (Emma Suárez) is on the verge of leaving Madrid for Portugal with long-time partner Lorenzo (Darío Grandinetti). A fortuitous encounter with Beatriz (Michelle Jenner), the childhood best friend of Julieta’s long-lost and almost-forgotten daughter Antía (Blanca Parés) causes her to throw caution to the wind. Julieta abandons Lorenzo and their Portugal plans and moves back to an old apartment where she and the younger Antía used to live. Julieta puts pen to paper to explain her side of the story to her absent daughter. This is where Julieta unravels the mystery surrounding her past life that has remained unchartered for so long.

Movie poster of Pedro Almodóvar’s Julieta. Image from entertainmentfocus.com

Movie poster of Pedro Almodóvar’s Julieta. Image from entertainmentfocus.com

Julieta’s past takes the audience to a time when cropped hair and black stockings were the rage. The younger Julieta (Adriana Ugarte) sports both when she meets Xoan (Daniel Grao) on a train. The teacher and the fisherman with a wife in a coma bond over a shocking death of a man that Julieta thought to behave inappropriately towards her. The product of that bond is Antía.

After the death of Xoan’s wife, Julieta, Xoan and their bundle of joy live contentedly in a cozy seaside house for several years. While Antía is away on a trip, a marital squabble arises that forces Xoan to take his boat out to sea. Unfortunately, Mother Nature is fickle-minded and takes Xoan as her captive.

The young version of Julieta never recovers from the tragedy, which is akin to the Greek myths she teaches her students. Due to Julieta’s melancholy, the adolescent Antía loses both her parents at one unlucky stroke of fate. As Julieta grows more and more despondent, Antía becomes her primary caregiver. In a symbolic scene where Antía dries Julieta’s hair with a red towel, young Julieta’s face vanished from sight and old Julieta’s face materializes. Both have the same expression – filled with sorrow and no space for an ounce of hope.

Suárez as the old Julieta is exquisite. She is the depiction of poetry in motion, graceful and gorgeous, under the loving gaze of Lorenzo, but all that shatters after she meets Beatriz. Her downward emotional spiral at the mere mention of her estranged daughter’s name causes her unimaginable agony that is visible in every line of her face. Her manic outbursts as she goes through the denial stage are only rivaled by her latter introspective silences in terms of acting. Suárez is most effective when she utters no lines yet her eyes speak volumes. One can feel the pain of a mother who loses a child but does not know why.

Ugarte is a worthy younger counterpart of Suárez. She is the definition of vivaciousness and raw sexiness rolled in one delightful package. More importantly, she also gives justice to the grieving Julieta, with her long but pregnant silences and spaced out looks.

There are multiple shifts from present to past and vice versa but they are easy to follow. Aside from the different personalities of the younger and older versions of Julieta, the surroundings, the costumes and the level of overall vibrancy of the movie change with each shift. Older Julieta’s flat is elegant just like the woman she has grown to be, but the younger Julieta’s house (the one she shares with Xoan) is much more enthralling with its little garden out front, tiled kitchen nook and the view of the water. The scenes with younger Julieta in their seaside town have colors that pop and complementary music to accompany them. The scenes in Madrid are more somber to match Julieta’s transformation. These details are very much appreciated.

Julieta is a story of a woman, in two different phases of her life thirty years apart. She lives through tragic deaths (that man on the train and Xoan’s), infidelity (hers, Xoan’s and her father’s) and estrangement (her from her father and her daughter from her), but she also experiences great loves (Xoan’s and Lorenzo’s). The repeating patterns in the life of Julieta is mirrored by the back and forth narration between the lives of young and old versions of Julieta. As Suárez and Ugarte take turns in assuming the role of Julieta with great skill, the direction of the story (thankfully) does not become discombobulated. Julieta remains the focus of Julieta. Her journey that started the night she entangled herself in Xoan’s life almost comes full circle.

 

Stray Observations:

  1. Pedro Almodóvar’s Julieta is Spain’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th edition of Academy Awards.
  1. It was a little disconcerting watching Adriana Ugarte with non-black short spiky hair. She was so lovely in El Tiempo Entre Costuras with her long raven hair, and I thought she looked like a goddess there.

 

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