PEDRO Almodovar is one of the most, if not the most, consistent directors in world cinema today and his 20th feature, Julieta proves that, even if it is not on par with his more superior outings.
Mainly done as a flashback piece, the film opens with the film’s eponymous character (played in older form by Emma Suarez) walking in the street when she bumps into Bea (Michelle Jenner) a friend from her estranged daughter’s childhood. Refusing to join her boyfriend on their planned journey to Portugal, she stays in Madrid where she begins to document the events from her past leading up to present day.
Entering an extended flashback, the film then travels to events where a younger Julieta (played by Adriana Ugarte) is travelling on a train where she leaves her carriage to avoid speaking with another passenger. When that passenger ends up dead, she seeks comfort in fellow passenger, fisherman Xoan (Daniel Grao). The two then begin a passionate affair which culminates in the birth of their daughter Antia.
But as the years go by, tragedy occurs and the relationship between mother and daughter is threatened, playing out in a mystery that alters Julieta’s life.
When looking at Almodovar and his cinema that has made him such a gift upon the world, one thinks of All About My Mother and Talk to Her and Broken Embraces. While Julieta can’t find a place around those works, this still acts nonetheless as an engrossing and enjoyable piece that quickly gets in the viewer interested.
With the opening scene documenting a relationship effectively ending as a result of circumstance, we see the arc of loneliness that Almodovar often brings to his characters. That then sets up the story that sells on being genuine, partially successful due to the dynamic between Julieta and Xoan.
With the killing of a mysterious passenger, we see Almodovar bring a darkness that is quickly shifted into romance that allows the film to build upon, entering from one story to the next. Its foray into romance may seem conventional but there is genuine passion in what we see and Ugarte, whose appearance changes sporadically, plays it steady and delivers a respectable performance, as does Garcia as the older version.
The film’s tragic undertones halfway turn the film on its head yet Almodovar allows the remaining characters to display their emotions appropriately, creating a sympathetic and often heartfelt piece. It has Almodovar returning to his melodramatic pieces not seen since Broken Embraces and it is welcome to see his returning to the style of work that sees him at his best.
In this case, we get a good but not a great account which might seem mildly underwhelming, but totally forgiving and bearable though. Bye-bye are his use of eccentric characters and moments of OTT wackiness that can make his films such a pleasure to view and in this, we see a restrained piece that works generally well. Even when Julieta’s father appears to be in a relationship with his younger housemaid, the theme of age gap relationships bought in, it does not attempt to make the situation comedic and its right it stays that way, otherwise it becomes a deliberate distraction.
One brief scene allows the film to be humorous when Antia’s hair hides her face that we think we see the back of her, only for the hair to be moved to reveal she’s facing the camera. The brief humour is welcome because it fits in with the scene which revolves around Antia getting ready to go on vacation and does not get in the way of anything crucial to the story.
It feels like a mystery film without the suspense because we wonder what Julieta will gain out of seeking as the second half rumbles on, even if we as viewers don’t expect a great deal either. There is intrigue yet the lacking in conventions of giving us twists or unexpected plotlines still make the film work for doing something differently.
It feels more like an episode of Long Lost Family mixed with elements of Chabrol and the film succeeds the way it does because of three reasons.
Firstly, even with the intrigue involved, we don’t expect a great deal and the answer is either a yes or a no. In spite of that, it keeps our interest because throughout the film, we see a life that was secure that is now reduced to a mess and we wonder if there can be a recovery of sense.
That plays in with the second reason, the characters. The majority of them are watchable and gain our attention due to Almodovar’s respect for those written.
The third lies with the structure. Most films would fail because they were overloaded with too many events set across too many different years but it works because the pace remains comforting and steady. It does not cram us with too many things to recall and as the characters age, the story remains just as entertaining.
Almodvar may not have made another masterpiece, but on the whole, Julieta still impresses enough to hand more proof that he knows how to engage an audience like few others.