Gestating since 2009 when Pedro Almodóvar acquired the rights to a trio of celebrated Canadian writer Alice Munro’s short stories (they all come from the same 2004 collection, “Runaway”), Julieta marks the provocative Spanish filmmakers 20th feature.
Alternately beautiful and sad, Julieta is also obvious and self-indulgent, but is nonetheless a ravishing cinematic experience where certain colors––namely red and blue––jump off the screen, symbolizing and accentuating the experiences of the frayed and torn characters in this tear-jerker drama.
Ostensibly the tangled tale of a middle-aged woman racked with guilt, Julieta (Emma Suárez, excellent), on the cusp of leaving her home in Madrid for Portugal with her boyfriend Lorenzo (Dario Grandinetti) has a fluke encounter on the street with her daughter Antía’s (Blanca Parés) childhood friend Beatriz (Sara Jiménez). We come to understand that Antía cut all ties with Julieta and ran away when she was a teenager for reasons that gradually are made clear.
Julieta finds Almodóvar back in his element with this female-centric narrative, and many sequences play out with his signature flare and formalism. One extended flashback sequence set on a train, featuring a radiant turn from Adriana Ugarte as a younger Julieta, unravels and unwinds with mystery and design that recalls Hitchcock’s romantic exordium in North By Northwest.
And while it’s certainly splendid to have Almodóvar playing to many of his strengths, Julieta lacks the eccentricity and weirdness of his finest work, making its packed narrative––and it’s a very dense potboiler––something of an anticlimax. Gone are any traces of humor or transgression, leaving us with dirge-like severity that’s pretty to look at but feels truncated.
One of the best lines in the film goes to Lorenzo when he tells Julieta that he may be “turning into one of Patricia Highsmith’s obsessive characters” only the real mystery here is why Almodóvar’s latest lacks the timbre and matronly mettle it promises. Julietta still has a lot going for it, but given the substantial source material, uniformly strong cast, and mastery of its director, Julieta should have been transcendental instead of inconsequential.
Taste of Cinema Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.