Packed and ready to leave Spain with her boyfriend for Portugal, Julieta happens to run into an old friend of her daughters. The two share a brief conversation where the girl mentions that she recently also ran into Antia, Julieta's daughter. This shakes Julieta to the bone because her daughter has been missing for twelve years, and so the future she had planned, which twenty minutes earlier seemed so certain, comes to a crashing halt as Julieta must confront the demons of her past. From here, we are witness to her life before and the decisions she made to end up where she is today, and what caused the separation from her daughter Antia.
“Julieta” is Pedro Almodoavar's twentieth feature film and also happened to be my most anticipated film of 2016. Normally when I go into a film that I am anticipating so much, I do so with hesitation over a fear of being disappointed. This was not the case here, it was almost like I knew that Almodovar was going to deliver as he rarely puts a wrong foot forward, and as soon as the opening credits began, I knew I was safe in the hands of a master filmmaker and a big goofy smile covered my entire face. This is a return to the kind of dramas Almodovar is famous for, with strong females leads, and is the first of this type since 2006's “Volver”. I think it is fair to say that the story of “Julieta” is a low key affair, very internalised and as such, the film feels smaller than we are used to from this talented director, but that does not mean that it is any less good.
The entire film takes place of around thirty years, and at the start of the film we are witness to Julieta when she is young and full of energy. She is a school teacher and you can tell that she really cares about her students well being. She connects with them due to her vitality towards life, and as such you can see that she is getting through to them all. Eventually she ends up on a train, and it is this train ride that changes her life forever, for two reasons. The first is that it is on this train that she ends up meeting the love of her life, Xoan, and the future father of her daughter. The other reason is not a happy one, as it is also on this train that she runs from a conversation with a lonely stranger, a stranger who later commits suicide on the train ride. From here on, she carries around the guilt of not talking to the man and thus feeling like she contributed towards the man's death. This early part of the film, Julieta is played by Adriana Ugarte and she is simply wonderful in the role. Like her character, she is full of such energy and really brings a lightness to the film. You really enjoy being in the company of this woman. Without delving into spoilers, Julieta ends up suffering from a great tragedy, which again she will feel guilty towards, and Ugarte is then sensational at showing us Julieta in a completely different light. She becomes a shell of her former self, turning away from life and falling into a deep depression. Ugarte is amazing at being physically present in a scene, and yet not being in the moment at all; her mind is always elsewhere. It is a great performance.
As is the norm for a Pedro Almodovar film, the visual details within it are all immaculately designed and realised and for this first half of the film set in the eighties, the period detail is just spot on. From the horrible ugly clothes to the décor within the houses, it all feels on point and you feel transported back to that era; the era incidentally when Almodovar first made a name for himself in the world of cinema. His use of colour, as usual, is outstanding. He is one director that doesn't seem to have any fear of making his films burst with colour and this one is no exception, with his use of the colour red, sublime, right from the opening frame.
From here on, Julieta, now a broken woman, attempts to find her way back into the world and to find happiness once again. Her daughter and herself seem to have a good relationship although it is reverse in nature with Antia being the one looking after her mother, instead of the other way around. This version of Julieta is now played by Emma Suarez and it is a much different performance then that of Urgate's, because Julieta herself is a completely different woman now. There is almost no light left in the woman any more, only darkness, although she is trying desperately to find her way back out into the light. You can sense that she is just full of pain and hurt and that she is very fragile, and when her daughter disappears, this only gets worse. Eventually, we do see Julieta what appears happy again; she is with a new man who loves her deeply, and she is ready to leave behind Spain and her past, however you can see through Suarez's eyes that she is still very sad and his not come to terms with her past.
This is actually quite a hard film to talk about because it is filled with little twists and turns that sometimes appear out of nowhere, so to ruin these just doesn't seem fair for a film so new. I will say that Almodovar once again proves that he also has an uncanny ability to create unbearable suspense to a scene, and I am not surprised to have seen many references to Alfred Hitchcock in reviews for this film. There is one point in particular when I could not help but think of Hitch, during an expertly staged suspense sequence. In saying that, I would not call this a suspense film, but a melodrama about a woman coming to terms with the past and trying to reconcile herself with it so that she can have a future. Unfortunately I think that the film's original title was much stronger and spoke entirely about the its themes and subtext, and it is a great shame to have lost it. The original title was “Silencio” but Almodovar decided to give it up so there would be no confusion between his film and Martin Scorsese's “The Silence”, also due later this year. As I said this is a shame, because the film is all about how keeping quiet about trauma or things that happen in your life, even if it you believe its for the good of others, never turns out to be a good thing at all. Throughout the film, many different characters hold back or keep quiet about certain things, and every time it back fires and ultimately causes more pain rather than prevent it. It is not until the characters actually confront or face up to these things, that they can then move past them and happiness is either achieved or at least is in sight again.
Before I end this little review, I quickly want to make mention of Rossy De Palma, who plays Xoan's housekeeper. Anybody who is an Almodovar fan loves Rossy De Palma, who used to show up regularly in his earlier films, and thankfully he is using her again. Here she is wonderful as a two faced bitchy character, and she commands the screen with such power, even with her ridiculous and ugly hairstyle. She is great though and you can never take your eyes off of her.
Overall, “Julieta” did not disappoint. While smaller in scope than usual for Almodovar, this was a beautifully created film that I loved every second of. It has been wonderfully acted by all involved, with Almodovar's involvement behind the camera, impeccable as usual. Hopefully you can get something out of this review as I have tried to keep the film's secrets just that, but I can say that Julieta's journey is one worth taking with her. I highly recommend this film.