Year: 2016
Director(s): Pedro Almodovar
Writer(s): Pedro Almodovar, Alice Munro
Region of Origin: Spain

Rating: R
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Digital, Color, 99 mins

Synopsis: After a casual encounter, a brokenhearted woman decides to confront her life and the most important events about her stranded daughter. (Source)

Julieta finds director Pedro Almodovar at his most restrained, but also as impactful as he’s ever been. Adapted from short stories penned by Alice Munro, Almodovar’s latest draws on what he does best, blending resplendent visuals and quirky melodrama with the intense highs and lows of life itself. Told through a tapestry of vibrant chapters, a portrait of loss and grief comes into play, even though joy and beauty are never too far away. The tension between life’s contradictions is what stitches the film together, with stars Emma Suarez and Adriana Ugarte creating a tandem performance that resonates and touches deeply. Though the ideas in the film aren’t anything new, they’re also unmistakably primal, and told with a passion that is urgent and rarely seen.

The story begins as Julieta (Emma Suarez) is about to flee Madrid with her boyfriend Lorenzo (Dario Grandinetti). The circumstances are unclear, but it’s obvious the pair are hoping to start anew, and clearly in love with one another. On the eve of their trip, Julieta encounters Beatriz (Michelle Jenner), the childhood friend of her estranged daughter, Antia. Julieta immediately cancels her plans to leave the country, instead renting the last apartment that Antia knew of before their split, hoping that her daughter will be able to find her. She waits, hoping against hope that she’ll receive word from Antia, biding her time while compiling a written memoir of the life she once had and all the things she’s ever wanted to say to her. The stories she commits from memory illustrate Julieta’s lust for life at a young age, but also the unfortunate circumstances that changed her forever.

Simplicity is key here, with Almodovar sticking to his protagonist and rendering her with raw intimacy and unmatched fervor. We feel like a fly on the wall, experiencing the allure of her youth, the rush of her passion and the way she jumps into the unknown with grace, but also the despair that drowns her when tragedy strikes. As each of Julieta’s stories cover a distinct period in her life, Almodovar is able to constantly reevaluate the character, how time and unforeseen consequence has driven her to the brink, and touching upon how our choices take us to places we can’t ever imagine. If there’s a through line, it’s the relationships between Julieta and the women in her life, be it her peers, ailing mother, a curt housekeeper and even her own daughter, all of which shift in fascinating ways through time and distance. Ultimately, the film celebrates the importance of family and forgiveness, touching upon how we can’t undo the past, but have a say on how we embrace and accept the future.

The film really does cover the entirety of human emotion, and giving the stories a genuine anchor are the performances of Emma Suarez and Adriana Ugarte. As the younger Julieta, Ugarte carries almost the first half of the film, showing us a woman with the world at her fingertips, and the ambition and fearlessness to take things all the way. Her energy is infectious and she has a natural charm that makes even the most trivial moments seem special. Picking things up at the latter end, Emma Suarez seals the deal, complimenting Ugarte’s performances with a darker implications, connecting all the dots with maturity and depth – she allows Julieta’s fragmented story the weight it deserves. Daniel Grao, Rossy de Palma, Priscilla Delgado and Michelle Jenner provide support and provide a diverse palette for Suarez and Ugarte to play off of.

As a whole, Julieta’s vignettes create a larger whole that is as devastating as it is beautiful. The film presents a life worth living despite the bad, and highlights the little moments in each of our lives that usually get lost amidst the bigger picture. Almodovar’s celebration of female strength (and the singular relationships they navigate) is much needed now more than ever, and a reminder of how time can heal most wounds. This is a film that transforms with its characters, and shows Almodovar sticking to his singular strengths.

SG