Julieta | Pedro Almodóvar | Spain | 2016 | 99 minutes
Pedro Almodovar’s Julieta is one more Missed Madison title that still could make it to town. Jason Fuhrman explains how the film both continues and diverges from Almodóvar’s previous work.
Update 3/9/17: Sundance Cinemas Madison had announced that Julieta would open on Friday, March 10, but the latest Facebook update suggests that it will be coming soon.
Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film finds the Spanish auteur (Volver, All About My Mother) continuing his exploration of the female psyche as he heads in a new direction. A fractured melodrama about the eponymous character’s struggle to survive uncertainty, Julieta is loosely based on three interrelated short stories by the Canadian writer (and Nobel laureate) Alice Munro: “Chance,” “Soon,” and “Silence” from her 2004 volume Runaway.
Almodóvar initially planned to use Munro’s stories as the basis of an English-language feature, yet transplanting the material to Spain places him on fertile home ground. As with Live Flesh (1997) and The Skin I Live In (2011), Julieta may have a literary source, but the result is distinctly his own. Spanning three decades, the film blends Munro’s keen attention to the inner lives of women with Almodóvar’s flamboyant style. The plot gradually unfolds through extended flashbacks. Julieta, played at different stages in her life by two actresses (Emma Suárez, Adriana Ugarte), suffers overwhelming guilt and grief, first due to the loss of her husband, Xoan, and later when she is inexplicably abandoned by her daughter, Antía. As Julieta crisscrosses time and space, it often plays more like a tense psychological thriller than a melodrama.
Eschewing the baroque experimentation and high-camp tone of his earlier, more lurid movies, Almodóvar adopts an elegantly restrained aesthetic approach to Julieta’s story. While his visual palette is as rich and sumptuous as ever, he ties himself down with relatively muted colors and stark set design.
Throughout the course of nearly 40 years, Almodóvar has drawn inspiration from a broad range of sources, including Alfred Hitchcock, B-movies, Pina Bausch, and Douglas Sirk. However, his fascination with the mystery of women and his ability to create vivid female characters have remained constants. “I feel that I can tell a richer and more entertaining story with women,” he acknowledges, “I will write male and female characters, but I do find at least in Spanish culture, women to be more vivacious, more direct, more expressive, with a lot less of a sense of being fearful of making a fool of themselves.”
Although it is far from his most provocative or entertaining work, Almodóvar’s unusually tame 20th feature represents a welcome return to the female-focused filmmaking that has earned him acclaim. With its vibrant heroine, emotional complexity, and exquisite stylistic flourishes, Julieta is an enigmatic, entrancing dual portrait of an inconsolable woman perpetually on the verge of a personal breakthrough.
Check out the other Missed Madison Film Festival reviews for Wednesday, January 25:
Editor’s Note: Based on Sundance Madison lobby posters and trailers, Julieta still might make it to Madison soon. We will update this post if Julieta does open at Sundance Madison in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, keep up to date with Jason Fuhrman’s Cinesthesia series at the Madison Public Library’s Central Branch, and look for his monthly program notes here at the Madison Film Forum.