The film is somewhere between a melodrama, drama and a loving homage to Hitchcock. Rating: 3-and-a-half stars out of 4.
The 20th feature from the great Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar (“Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” “All About My Mother,” “Bad Education,” “Volver”) is a story of a mother and daughter, whom we first meet in a photograph torn into tiny pieces. In the film’s early scenes, middle-aged Julieta (Emma Suárez) is packing up her Madrid apartment to move to Portugal with her gentle-eyed companion Lorenzo (Darío Grandinetti). A chance encounter on the street, with a childhood friend of Julieta’s daughter Antía, changes everything. Where is Antía? Why is Julieta so desperate for news of her? Why does Lorenzo not know that Julieta has a daughter? The stage is set, the flashbacks roll in, and the story begins.
Delicately placed somewhere between melodrama, drama and loving homage (the latter to Hitchcock, whose influence is strong in a moody night-train sequence and a Mrs. Danvers-like character), “Julieta” is focused tightly on its title character, whom we watch through several decades. (In the flashback scenes, the younger Julieta is played by Adriana Ugarte, who shares with Suárez a way of looking at the camera as if opening her soul.) We learn the story behind Antía’s conception, her childhood, and a tragedy that changes her relationship with her mother. And we watch the older, tormented Julieta, sitting in a near-empty apartment, reflecting on how her daughter’s presence once warmed that space — and on how an absence can fill an entire life.
“Julieta” is filled with Almodóvar’s usual attention to vivid color (a turquoise turtleneck worn by young Julieta seems to add notes to the film’s moody musical score), and to the ways women talk to each other. Note the complex but genuine friendship between Julieta and Ava (Imma Cuesta), an artist whose romantic past intertwines with Julieta’s, and the way that Julieta’s relationship with her own mother, an invalid, is lightly touched upon, foreshadowing that of the next generation. The camera lingers on objects: a statuette of a man, a blue envelope, a robe in a bright print. All are part of Julieta’s story, which seems to continue past the film’s abrupt but appropriate ending. Almodóvar makes her live for us; we hope that, somewhere, she’s finally at peace.
Movie Review ★★★½
‘Julieta,’ with Emma Suárez, Adriana Ugarte, Daniel Grao, Imma Cuesta, Darío Grandinetti, Michelle Jenner, Rossy de Palma. Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, based on stories by Alice Munro. 99 minutes. Rated R for some sexuality/nudity. In Spanish with English subtitles. Guild 45th.