Director Pedro Almodóvar/2017
Acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, brings us the austere film Julieta, where one woman learns to struggle through the grief and depression of a long-hidden secret that springs to life after a casual encounter. It is a tale with many layers, that is willing to tackle some heavy issues to boot. All the while, maintaining an endearing quality in the main characters that helps them rise above some of the darker situations that are portrayed within the narrative.
Julieta (Emma Suárez) is a woman who is ready to upend her entire life, preparing to move from Madrid, Spain to Portugal to support her boyfriend Lorenzo (Dario Grandinetti) who is moving back there to pursue his dreams. Both are well established in their careers and middle-aged lives, and both value the arts and pursuits such as reading, painting, and sculpture.
All of it feels very true to life, and authentic to what is happening within the narrative itself. This is one of the strengths of this film, and Almodóvar’s direction that can be seen and felt throughout its running time.
As Julieta is preparing to leave, she casually runs into Beatrice (Michelle Jenner), a childhood friend of Julieta’s daughter Antía. Beatrice, or Bea, lets Julieta know that she recently ran into Antía at Lake Como, near the Italian/Switzerland border. She commented about how amazed she was that Antía now had 3 children and was still very pretty. She apologized for having to leave so quickly after just running into Julieta, but casually went on her way. The encounter, however, was anything but casual for Julieta, who promptly breaks up with Lorezo, cancels her plans to move to Portugal, and then moves from her apartment in Madrid to a different place across town, to a place she has lived before.
Almodóvar keeps the mystery, by shrouding the true catalyst of this exchange, in a deeply hidden back story that is revealed through a series of flashbacks prompted by Julieta writing the true story of what happened in a journal meant for her daughter Antía, who we learn has not seen her mother for over 12 years. The film features Adriana Ugarte as a younger version of Julieta, and Daniel Grao as Xoan, Antía’s father. Antía is played by Blanca Parés as an 18 month old, and Pricilla Delgado as an adolescent.
Almodóvar is a master of the subtle shift of tone as he balances several shifting narratives seen as snapshots at different periods of Julieta’s life. From the passion of a young 25 year old teaching at a school about the subject that she loves, to finding her first love after a chance encounter on a train, the initial feelings are euphoric, yet controlled, before subtitling shifting tones to more complex ones as external situations weave in and out of the lives of the characters.
Julieta, for example, is always passionate and optimistic as a foundation of her character, which becomes all the more startling as you witness the events that has led to the estrangement from her daughter and her subsequent slide into darkness and despair. The optimism sometimes still peeks through, but just like looking at one who has aged over time, the person, or this case the character, in front of you stands as a mere shadow of who they once were. Despite this, the film still holds out hope that all is not lost.
The narrative of the film, written by Almodóvar and Alice Munro, looks to contrast a series of notions. Youth vs. aging. Faith in something higher vs. despair in our hopeless situations. Art vs. Practicality. Truth vs. Compromise. Past vs. future. Love vs. physical desire, and many more. At the center of it all is a sobering, and crippling effect of depression, and grief. Yet despite these darker subjects, Julieta is still offering hope for those who might despair of life at times.
The film is in Spanish, with English subtitles, but speaks with a voice that is truly universal in how it conveys the situations and emotions of its title character. The emotions and reactions of the characters are grounded in the sobering reality that is our current world, and as such are recognizable to all, even in the face of a potential language barrier. The message: it comes through.
Another subtle change in Julieta is the ever changing relationship with Julieta and her daughter, as her daughter, Antía, grows up. All of it feels very true to life, and authentic to what is happening within the narrative itself. This is one of the strengths of this film, and Almodóvar’s direction that can be seen and felt throughout its running time.
Julieta offers no easy answers, but ends much like its protagonist in the fact that no matter how dour the circumstances might seem to be, there is a light at the end of the metaphorical tunnel. This light is one of positivity, possibility, and the belief that ultimately, we sometimes get a second chance to make the choices that will drive who we truly are to the places we need to be.