Monday, 30 September 2019

Julieta

Here's another Spanish drama/mystery from writer/director Pedro Almodóvar in 2016, produced ten years after his excellent Volver starring Penelope Cruz. This one is about a woman reflecting on her life, her daughter, and what she might have done differently to avoid the pain of losing those around her who made her life complete.

Sounds a bit dull, doesn't it! Actually, it's not. It's a slow-burner about Julieta played by Emma Suárez as the narrative begins with her in middle-age beginning to write her reflective memoir. Life has been hard on her and at the point of giving up on being able to fix it, she's depressed and wants to record her thoughts with an unspoken suggestion of ending it all. Most of the film then jumps back following her earlier life and depicts the events upon which she reflects.

The young Julieta is played by Adriana Ugarte who meets a fisherman by chance on a train but on that same train fails to respond to an older man reaching out for comfort, unknown to her, who was about to take his life. She thinks he's just an odd old man and leaves him, ensuring guilt that she will carry with her. She and the fisherman forge a life together and have a daughter, Antia. Tragedy follows with the death of the father and Antia disappears from Julieta's life, casting blame on her mother for the event. Julieta spends 12 years trying to find her.

Julieta has a boyfriend, of sorts, by this time - but it's clear that she has no deep feeling for him and sure enough, casts him aside to concentrate on her quest to find Antia. She moves back to the family home in hope that Antia might eventually contact her there. She bumps into Antia's childhood friend who tells her that she had met Antia by chance and that she was together with a man and living with their three children. The hunt is on again with this new information, but still cul-de-sacs at every turn.

We jump back and forward a little, but that's never done confusingly. The two actresses playing the older and younger Julieta makes sure that everyone knows where they are and the number playing Antia as she grows up, keeps the timeline clear. Apart from Darío Grandinetti as the boyfriend who played a leading role in the excellent Wild Tales, I have to admit to not knowing any of the cast but many of them clearly have extensive experience in Spanish cinema and TV. Adriana Ugarte is particularly captivating as the young Julieta, Emma Suárez clearly capable as the older - and the rest of the supporting cast don't seem to put a foot wrong.

The story is based around three books by Alice Munro (Destino, Pronto and Silencio) which I have not read, but those who have done seem to say that Almodóvar has made a fine job of weaving them together and creating this film. He certainly directs capably here with engaging photography, typically Spanish sets, lighting and interiors.

It's an excellent film, not too long at 90 minutes but engaging and well constructed. It's a film about loss, reflection, tragedy, guilt and hope, like many european cinema outings, but this one I think certainly stands out from the crowd having been excellently produced and executed. Recommended.

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