JULIETA (Spain/TBC/97mins)
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Starring Emma Suárez, Adriana Ugarte, Dnaiel Grao, Inma Cuesta, Rossy De Palma
THE PLOT: Julieta (Emma Suárez) is just about to move from Madrid to Portugal when she runs into Bea (Michelle Jenner) on the street. Bea tells Julieta that she has recently seen Julieta’s daughter Antia at Lake Cuomo. Since Julieta has not seen her daughter in many years, this throws her into chaos and causes her to cancel her new life plans and stay in Madrid, with the hope of reconnecting with her long lost daughter.
THE VERDICT: Based on the stories ‘Chance’, ‘Soon’ and ‘Silence’ by Alice Munro, Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film In Competition at Cannes has the director’s trademark melodrama and strong musical choices, but with a voiceover running throughout the course of the film, ‘Julieta’ is less an emotion piece and more a dramatised letter; which leaves it feeling unsatisfactory.
The cast, Emma Suárez, Adriana Ugarte, Dnaiel Grao, Inma Cuesta and Rossy De Palma do what they can with the film, and try to make ‘Julieta’ a character driven romantic thriller, but the screenplay seems to be working against them for much of the film. Suárez and Ugarte – playing Julieta at different times in her life – do the best here, with Ugarte obviously having fun with the younger more carefree version of the character, and Suárez making the older Julieta more broken and lonely, but these performances are not enough to carry a film whose motto seems to be “Tell, don’t show”.
Almodóvar’s adaptation of Munro’s stories transports the action to Spain, with the story beginning in the 1980s, when Julieta met Antia’s father. The film is told through flashback as the older Julieta writes a letter to her missing daughter – whom she has not seen for 12 years – and this is precisely where the problem with the film lies. By using the letter writing device, which can be used well on screen, Almodóvar relies on voiceover to do the work of telling the story, but while this works, it also emotionally undermines the film, with the audience continually being told how characters feel, rather than being allowed to experience it through what is being shown on screen.
As director, Almodóvar has a tendency to go for the dramatic, tele novella style of telling serious stories, and this is certainly the case for ‘Julieta’, with over the top, melodramatic music permeating the film – which also tells the audience how the characters are feeling, in case we missed the voiceover – and the film not so nimbly jumping through 30 years of story in 97 minutes. The performances are fine, with Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte making their respective versions of the title character different, with the audience clearly able to see character progression, but they are let down by an overly dramatic, overly simplified screenplay that doesn’t seem to trust the audience to pick up on nuance.
In all, ‘Julieta’ is a strange, overly dramatic film; of course there is heartbreaking tale in here, of a woman trying to understand why her daughter simply wlked away one day and never came back, but the emotional punch this film could have packed is diminished and undermined by continual voiceover and a screenplay that jumps through time, seemingly at will.
RATING: 2/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

Cannes Review - Julieta
Review by Brogen Hayes
2.0Emotionally bland
  • filmbuff2011

    Spain’s greatest living director, Pedro Almodovar, is reliably consistent in his filmmaking. Every film he makes is a gem to add to his considerable hoard of treasures – a must see for anyone with a love of cinema. While his last film, the flamboyant I’m So Excited!, didn’t shine as brightly as the others, it’s with great pleasure to report that the auteur has delivered a shiny new gem in the form of Julieta. It sits comfortably beside the likes of Volver and All About My Mother.

    Julieta (Emma Suarez) is about to leave Madrid for Portugal with her partner Lorenzo (Dario Grandinetti). This has been planned for a year now, but a chance encounter changes things dramatically. She runs into Beatriz (Michelle Jenner), the friend of her long-lost daughter Antia. They talk briefly and Beatriz informs Julieta that she came across Antia recently and that she now has three children. This prompts memories of the past to resurface for Julieta. She sits down to pen a letter to Antia, explaining how she and her father first met. In flashbacks, we see how the younger Julieta (Adriana Ugarte) was traumatised by an encounter with a man on a train and another encounter with the man who would eventually shape her future. As Julieta peels back the layers on her tragic home and personal life, we discover the reasons why Antia disappeared and left a hole in Julieta’s heart…

    Based on three short stories by Alice Munro, Julieta is a film that is structured like a personal mystery that deepens with each passing scene. It plays out almost like a thriller, but no murder has been committed. Unless that murder is of a mother’s heart by her own daughter. For Julieta is a woman who is broken-hearted at the disappearance of her daughter from her life. What mother wouldn’t be?

    At the beginning, the audience is almost on the same level as Julieta. She has almost forgotten her daughter too and that chance encounter has forced memories of Antia back into her life – the curse of the human race. But Almodovar is also careful to suggest that memories can also take on healing properties. The root of Julieta’s present problems lie in the past and Almodovar illustrates this in subtle and carefully-written ways.

    Emotionally bland? No. There’s a wealth of emotion on display here, but Almodovar wants to suggest it rather than let it all out. He trusts his audience to be mature enough to fill in the blanks in his screenplay. Julieta is such a wonderfully-written character, in both the younger and older versions, that you can feel the pain of her loss with a simple glance. Suarez and Ugarte give seamless performances here and the shifts in time don’t feel forced or awkward. The passing of years is certainly felt. As ever, Almodovar regular and Margaret Hamilton lookalike Rossy De Palma steals the show as a sharp-tongued housekeeper.

    The only complaint this reviewer has is in the ending, which is admittedly abrupt. It feels like there’s a missing scene here, but on further contemplation it actually comes across as entirely appropriate. We’ve come this far with the characters, so maybe we should leave this last scene to them and not eavesdrop. Maybe that’s what Almodovar is suggesting. Julieta is haunting, emotionally satisfying and leaves you with much food for thought as the credits roll. ****