Director Pedro Almodovar’s Julieta is a lucidly drawn and beautifully realized case study in abandonment, unreconciled guilt, and a woman’s inability to exorcize demons from the past which emerge not from religion, or social secularism, but from the natural DNA of the human condition. The film spans thirty years of intrigue and mystery in Julieta’s (portrayed with depth and acute sensitivity by Emma Suarez as the older Julieta ), life in which she has struggled to endure a tragedy of loss largely engineered by destiny and circumstance.
Julieta is a beautiful fifty-something at the outset of the film who appears clearly self-defined, with no ragged edges. She who knows who she is, what she intends and appreciates her relationship with her significant other portrayed with quiet grace by Dario Grandinetti. Together they plan to move to Portugal and live happily into the setting sun of life where he will retire and write.
However, immediately, upon a chance encounter on the streets of Madrid with her daughter’s former friend Bea, whom she hasn’t seen in 15 years, the peace and order of Julietta’s identity shatters. We discover that not only is Julietta a fragmented, lost soul, she has been living a material half-life suppressing the only aspect of her existence that carries any substantial meaning for her, her love for her daughter and her daughter’s rejection and abandonment of her under opaque circumstances.
After the meeting with Bea, Julieta plunges into a deep depression and erases the clear lines of what we discover to be a fabricated identity. She shuts down her relationship with her partner, her plans to move to Portugal and her living arrangement which she changes as she moves to another section of Madrid. We are enthralled. What has caused her plunge to the end of despair? Within the first 15 minutes of film Almovodar has concisely created an enigma that he must explicate and resolve which he cleverly manages to do by the end of the film with lush cinematic poetry, haunting images and coherent music and art design.
The cinematography in the initial set up of the film is quite minimalistic, the set design bland, unemotional, benign rather static. After the encounter, Almodovar reveals its full impact upon Julieta; she devolves into and misery until she confronts her inner sorrow by writing in her journal, fashioning a letter to her daughter. In this writing she confronts the most real aspects of her soul in the arc of her past life.
As she writes, Almodovar transforms Julieta back into her hopeful, youthful self before we see her unshroud the cloak of torment which haunts her persona in the present after she meets Bea. Almodovar has cleverly cast the younger Julieta to be portrayed by the very fine actress Adriana Ugarte, signifying that in her youth, Julieta is a completely different persona and personality. It is here where the mystery of who and what she is Almodovar poetically, dynamically begins to reveal as he brings us into her past where she meets and falls in love on a train in which Almodovar with sparse intensity visually employs one or two symbolic images that are thematic keys to the film. These remind us of how chance meetings and sexual impulses drive individuals to forge relationships which may or may not settle well in the future.
In the extended flashback, we learn about Julieta’s relationship with her lover and husband and their love for their child. Almodovar also crystallizes in this flashback the foreboding undercurrents of emotional personality and subterranean consciousness which often erupt when we least expect, and combined with fate and destiny set us on a path from which there is no turning. As they do with Julieta, they may send one into uncertain terrain where there are only shadows. In the dim light, there are no answers, only hurt, loss and sorrow or the oblivion of the void, until deliverance comes.
After the first flashback into Julieta’s youth, Almodovar segues into the recent past in another flashback. He transitions back to Emma Suarez using an interesting metaphoric twist. He then seamlessly takes us on a brief journey of events in which is revealed daughter Antia’s close relationship with Bea and the interactions between Julietta and Antia until she comes of age. The events are mere highlights and we only understand from Julieta’s perspective; Almodovar never reveals Antia’s feelings or emotions.
Then there is the separation; Antia goes off to a retreat and the gulf widens until in searching for Antia at a beautiful place of solace, Julietta receives an emotional death-blow from which she is only able to somewhat recover through the help and love of Lorenzo. That is until the chance meeting with Bea catapults her into a renewed gulf of despair which she discovers was ever-present in her soul. And there she will never be able to escape until she receives the answers she has been searching for.
How Almodovar settles the intrigue of abandonment by her daughter and her own abandonment of herself is subject to destiny and fate. The guilt which Julieta has lived with because there have been no ready explanations or answers, she cannot alleviate, even though she attempts to reconcile herself and connect to herself in love with her journal writing. The wheel of destiny must turn for her, and it does in the form of a terrible accident of fate which begins the journey toward healing for Julieta and those she loves.
This is an amazing, beautiful film. Almodovar has adapted the stories of Alice Munro so that they cohere with the culture and imbue the tide of times in his evocation of the present and past. He is a master storyteller using lush, vibrant cinematography, art design, musical palate, and superb selection of locales rich with beauty, imagery and striking colors. All reveal Julieta’s hope and enjoyment of life and reflect the inner tapestry of her youth. And they evoke the dolor and sameness of her middle age 15 or so years later. The music selection reflects the luster of the vibrance of youth as well as serves to foreshadow the plot and import of his cinematic images’ symbolism. The screenplay is full of literary references, whether Almodovar’s or Munro’s, but they serve the story. Look for them and appreciate the haunting, startling central cinematic images which are breathtaking: the one of the stag running alongside the train and its import is unforgettable.
The film is a must see. Some have said it is not his best, but how can one compare evolving artistry? Certainly, Julieta is wonderful.