Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Review: Julieta

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
Bursting with color and the type of melodrama we've come to expect from his films, Pedro Almodovar's "Julieta" - which covers some of the same territory regarding mothers and their children that the filmmaker mined in "All About My Mother" and "Volver" - is a return to form for the director following his amusing, but slight, "I'm So Excited."

As the picture opens, the titular character (Emma Suarez) is planning to move from Madrid to Portugal with her boyfriend, Lorenzo (Dario Grandinetti), but something appears to be weighing on her mind. So, when she bumps into an old friend of her daughter on the street and discovers that her estranged child has been sighted, she throws out her plans, moves into an old apartment she once inhabited and begins to write a long letter to her daughter.

The film is told mostly through flashbacks that span from the 1980s to the present. A younger Julieta (Adriana Ugarte), a classics teacher, sets out on a train journey where two significant events occur: she takes on a life-long guilt for not being able to foresee that a lonely passenger who attempts to talk to her will soon commit suicide and then meets her future husband, Xoan (Daniel Grao), with whom she has a one night stand in a train car.

Shortly thereafter, Julieta tracks down Xoan, who has a wife in a long-time coma, and moves to his gorgeous seaside home, where she is met with suspicion by a housekeeper, Marian (Rossy de Palma), who actively attempts to sabotage their relationship. Also, Xoan has a friendship with one of his wife's friends, an artist named Ava (Inma Cuesta), that is questionable at best. But Julieta and Xoan have a daughter, Antia (played at various ages by Priscilla Delgado and Blanca Pares), whom they adore and life moves along smoothly for a while, although Julieta can't get over the fact that her mother is ailing, while her father has taken a younger housemaid as a lover.

But tragedy strikes and Julieta and Antia move to Madrid, where her daughter can be closer to a good friend named Beatriz (played by both Sara Jimenez and Michelle Jenner), who is the friend whom Julieta ran into on the street at the film's beginning and set the course of the story into motion. The mother and daughter eventually heal, but Julieta begins to have an emotional attachment to Antia that could be considered unhealthy for both of them.

Now a teenager, Antia goes on a spiritual retreat to the Pyrenees and, to her mother's shock, completely falls off the map, leaving Julieta to search for her for, well, let's say a long time. I won't give away the specifics of the story, but suffice it to say that the groundwork for the break between the mother and daughter is laid early in the film.

Although "Julieta" plays out almost as a mystery - Almodovar has long flirted with Hitchcockian storylines in films such as "Bad Education" and "Volver" - his latest is, at heart, a drama about bonds, whether familial, romantic or friendship. Suarez gives a terrific performance as the lead character, with whom we sympathize even as we question her decisions. The film, not surprisingly, looks gorgeous and has the stylistic touches - a red car driving along a green mountainous road, multi-colored towels covering a character stepping out of a bath, etc. - you'd expect from Almodovar.

And while the film may not rank among the director's best films - namely, "All About My Mother," "Talk to Her," "Volver" and "Bad Education" - it's a picture with more depth and feeling than his previous movie, "I'm So Excited," which was often funny, but lightweight and a minor entry in his oeuvre. Almodovar is a singular talent and his latest film is a visually and thematically rich feast for the senses.

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