After the unexpected death of her husband, Joan Didion wrote in her devastating, stripped-back memoir The Year of Magical Thinking: “A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty.” Pedro Almodóvar’s Julieta shows that death is only one cause of loss and emptiness. Factor in physical and mental deterioration, estrangement and silence, and the world becomes bare. Adapted from three short stories by Alice Munro, the film regularly hints at melodrama, but keeps a lid on both visible and invisible traumas, gradually emphasising the intergenerational experience of loneliness and rejection.
It begins with Julieta as an older woman (Emma Suárez), on the brink of moving to Portugal with late-life lover Lorenzo (Dario Grandinetti). The following day she bumps into Bea (Michelle Jenner), the childhood best friend (or more?) of her hitherto unmentioned daughter, Antía, who has cut off all contact with her mother for 12 years. The chance encounter and accompanying revelation disrupts Julieta’s recent attempts at serenity: she cancels the trip to Portugal, sells her apartment and writes a long testimony to her daughter, illuminating and complicating the history of their lives. As a striking young woman (played by Adriana Ugarte), the film shows Julieta’s passionate relationship with Antía’s fisherman father Xoan (Daniel Grao) and her complex connection to her ailing mother and philandering father. This forms Almodóvar’s main narrative device, deliberately limiting the story to flashbacks, memoirs and letters. When the narration finally shifts back to the present, contemporary events appear to more than echo the past.
This picture is pure Almodóvar: a visual bombardment of primary colours against a backdrop of physical pain and emotional loss. Julieta’s wardrobe is a modernist art exhibition in itself, her wounds obvious despite the sartorial distraction. With Almodóvar’s camera often trained on their faces, both Julietas give powerful performances that articulate various degrees of grief and abandonment. Degenerative illnesses and comatose states excuse infidelities. Neglect and isolation are seen mirrored – quite explicitly at times – in mother and daughter, husband and wife. Almodóvar is trying to evoke the universality of guilt and dejection, and despite the reductiveness of the film’s narrative style, he largely succeeds.
Julieta is released nationwide on 26th August 2016.
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Watch the trailer for Julieta here: