Julieta, film review: ‘Pedro Almodovar makes great art without the audience suffering’


Julietta - Credit: Archant

Pedro Almodovar returns to the screen in Julieta, based on short stories by Nobel prize winner Alice Munro.

After I’m So Excited, his attempt to go back to the irreverent comedy of his younger days, turned out to be a little bit of a disaster,

Pedro Almodovar’s latest sees him address himself to his position as one of Europe’s leading film makers.

It’s a serious, grown up effort, based on some short stories by Nobel prize winner Alice Munro, but with a streak of his usual irreverence.

He seems to be reaching higher than he ever has before, but without rejecting where he came from.

He’s making great art, but he isn’t out to make the audience suffer. For his characters though, it’s a different matter.

The film is framed as a middle aged woman (Suárez) recounting the story of her life in a letter to her estranged daughter.

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The story is full of coincidences, history repeating itself and dramatic ironies.

It’s a melodrama, but shot like a thriller.

Almodovar includes odd little anachronistic Hitchcock touches: a highly romanticised train journey where the young Julieta (Ugarte) meets the love of her life (Grao); a sinister bushy eyebrowed housekeeper (de Palma); the view of the sea from the window of a house that is clearly fake.

Apart from that though the film is shot in a subdued style and its emotional pull is that of real people who had planned to have sensible, serious lives only to find themselves stuck in a soap opera.

One of the great problems with films covering long time frames where the main role is split between an older and younger performer is how to manage the handover.

The two never quite match up.

Here though Almodovar constructs a simple but majestic image that cements the link between the two different actors, acknowledges its artificiality, and is incredibly poignant.

Almost comatose with grief, Ugarte’s younger Julieta is helped out of the bath by her daughter and her friend who start drying her hair with a red towel, which covers her head. When the towel is lifted it reveals Suarez’s middle aged Julieta: it is as if grief had wiped away all her remaining youth in a single swipe.

Rating: 4/5 stars