Based on a trio of stories by Alice Munro, Julieta weaves together an intricate tale of mothers and daughters, the ties that bind them together, the misunderstandings that drive them apart and the way the past haunts and shapes the present. It is visually sumptuous and emotionally complex, reaffirming Almodóvar as a master of both style and substance.
Almodóvar’s tale begins in present-day Madrid where middle-aged Julieta is about to leave Spain and start a new life in Portugal. A chance encounter brings her news of the daughter she hasn’t seen in over 12 years. A spark of hope is reignited and she decides to stay, writing a memoir of what happened years before. The story moves back to the 1980s when Julieta was a young classics teacher with a shock of blonde hair, an eye-popping wardrobe and a lust for life. She meets handsome Galician fisherman Xoan on a train and eventually becomes his second wife, despite the disapproval of Marian, a housekeeper in the tradition of Mrs Danvers from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. Lasting happiness is within her grasp but there are all kinds of signs and omens that heartache is never far away. One of the many pleasures of Julieta is the way that Almodóvar fits such a densely plotted story into a modest running time.
There is a huge amount going on yet no lack of clarity. There is so much to savour as well, from the seductive colour palette of rich blood reds and shimmering azure, to the elaborate costume design and a musical score from Alberto Iglesias that echoes the world of an Alfred Hitchcock classic. Almodóvar always wears his influences lightly and Julieta is no exception as he salutes the heightened artificiality of Hitchcock’s work in the 1960s, the thrillers of Patricia Highsmith and the heartbreak of Greek tragedy. But he moulds all these elements into a film that is very much his own.
There is a sombre, melancholy feel to Julieta that marks the film as the work of a more mature filmmaker. The giddy antics and exuberance of early Almodóvar delights, such as Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown, has given way to a wintry, world-weary feeling. Julieta is a reflection on life’s lost opportunities and rash judgments in which the lead character has been shaped by loss and regret. Almodóvar is renowned for creating great roles for women and Julieta is no exception with Adriana Ugarte and Emma Suárez capturing the vitality and vulnerability of a woman at very different points in her life.Review by Allan Hunter, Express