Adapted from three short stories by Alice Munro, Julieta by Pedro Almodóvar premieres in the UK. In the director’s words, this piece is a departure in style from his other 19 films, and is “about family relationships, doom, guilt complexes, silences of those who love each other, and sex to escape death…”
The film follows Julieta (Emma Suárez), who has lost her daughter for 12 years, not knowing why she left. Through flashbacks and flash forwards we gradually discover the details of her life. Maintaining mystery, with a few misleading clues, the truth is never divulged until the end.
Sensual, powerful, often ominous creative elements enhance an atmosphere combining passion, melancholy, despair and hope. The filmmaker uses deep, pulsing piano and symphonic music, and an often intense soundtrack and visuals, such as massive swirling clouds, raging sea, or the magnificent Spanish landscapes. A highly romantic film, Julieta also maintains a strong aura of tension and suspense along with powerful symbolism, sometimes bordering on the surreal: a male deer runs alongside a train as if trying to outrun it, looking up at the window – a metaphor for chasing time, outrunning death? Julieta’s response to her lover-to-be, Xoan (Daniel Grao), is “He smells a female in the air”, echoing the juxtaposition of sex and death, which both occur here.
A strong Hitchcockian influence is evident throughout: from the young Julieta’s (Adriana Ugarte) resemblance (in appearance and mood) to Hitchcock’s blondes in Marnie, The Birds, and Psycho, to techniques including his emphasis on the visual (showing rather than telling), the use of ominous music, symbolic visuals, tightly edited shots and close-ups of actors and props. In Julieta, zoom shots of eggs frying in a pan are perhaps an affectionate parody thereof. Location choices also invoke Hitchcock: the train scene is classic with themes of sexuality, mortality, grief and guilt. Martin Scorsese’s work is clearly another inspiration, part of the soundtrack distinctly evoking Taxi Driver.
Possibly questionable are both the sudden transition in one scene of Julieta’s character from one actress to another and a slightly abrupt ending. However, the first might be interpreted as the character’s rapid metamorphosis from optimism to despair, and the latter as representing life’s uncertainties.
As a whole, Julieta is remarkable. All the actors are excellent and the direction and filmmaking are superb. This is an intriguing, fascinating work.
Julieta is released nationwide on 26th August 2016.
Watch the trailer for Julieta here: