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NYFF: Almodóvar's Julieta

Manuel here catching up with Pedro's latest at the New York Film Festival

Following the New York Film Festival screening of his 20th film, Pedro Almodóvar admitted that, in adapting Alice Munro’s short stories (from her collection, Runaway), he had aimed for a more restrained tone. Indeed, especially in comparison to his previous outing—the mile high club comedy I’m So Excited!Julieta is an aggressively austere affair. Of course, “austere Almodóvar” is still inimitably Almodóvar. Take the film’s first shot: we’re awash in a sea of red fabric. It looks like draperie, perhaps a bedsheet or even a curtain. It pulses like a heart...

As it turns out, what we’re seeing is Julieta’s bold red dress, its heaving a sign of her breathing. She’s packing up her sleek Madrid apartment, preparing for a move to Portugal with her boyfriend. Only, after a chance encounter with an old friend of her daughter’s, Julieta (played at this age by Emma Suárez), decides to stay in town, end her relationship with her understanding partner, and move back to the building where she once lived. There, she begins writing her estranged daughter a letter of sorts that explains everything she couldn’t say while they were still in touch and living in that very building. This plunges us to a series of flashbacks where we meet a younger Julieta (played by Adriana Ugarte) who sports a punk mod style as she meets, as if by chance, a charming fisherman with whom she has a torrid one night affair on a train.

Building a story out of silence and grief, you can see why Almodóvar opted for austerity, hoping to do justice to Munro’s work: Juliet, she tells us in her first story, “might have had, at some level, the idea of herself as a young woman in a Russian novel, going out into an unfamiliar, terrifying, and exhilarating landscape where the wolves would howl at night and where she would meet her fae. She did not care that this fate—in a Russian novel—would likely turn out to be dreary, or tragic, or both.” The more we learn about Julieta's life, as she reveals it to herself as she does to us, it becomes clear that she was right. Though here the tragedy is much more contained and begins rather than ends with a train.

As with previous Almodóvar features like The Skin I Live In and Broken Embraces, the film shuttles back and forth between past and present to trace how it is that the vibrant, mini-skirt and blue-stocking wearing young woman in that train became the muted, near-broken woman we find wandering the streets of Madrid in the present. The Spanish director has once again created a plot so intricately constructed that any attempt to summarize it will only do it a disservice. Suffice to say that its original title, Silence, speaks to the words unsaid between mother and daughter but also between Julieta and two men in her life, whose deaths haunt her for years to come.

Try as he might to tame his more flamboyant side, the flashes of Almodovarian color, both figural and literal, are what make Julieta such a return to form for the beloved director. Deploying a mostly primary colors-palette (young Julieta is garbed in blues, the older one in reds, both popping against her bright blond locks), a gorgeously robust Alberto Iglesias score, and the types of beautifully art directed shots that feel indulgent as well as necessary (oh to live in any of the living spaces we're shown here), Julieta is as sober a Pedro melodrama as we’ve gotten in decades. Who knew he'd wear restraint so well?

Julieta is Spain's Oscar submission for 2016. It open in select US theaters on December 21st

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Reader Comments (16)

I'm so not interested in a world where Almodóvar makes restrained movies.

October 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I found this movie sou weak and boring... and I love Almodovar

October 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTopper

Seeing this next week, so I will come back and read Manuel afterwards...

October 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

I didn't like this quite as much as you Manuel but it definitely has worthwhile elements. As you menitoned that score is heaven and I love that even when Almodovar is trying to be restrained he can't help himself with all the eye popping reds. The scene which gives the movie its poster is magnficent too.

I'm totally curious as to whether Oscar will like this. Response seems to be all over the place from people i've talked to.

October 5, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I'm so excited!

October 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRoger

I thought this film was fantastic, and I really enjoyed reading your review. It makes me want to watch the film again.

October 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMario

Nathaniel -- Don't you hate voice-over? The entire movie is told, nothing is seen!

He pretends to deal with "real" people's feelings in this one, but everything sounds so fake and pompous and most of the characters are very poorly written (the daughter, the artist, the boyfriend).

October 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Peggy Sue -- well, Almodovar loves to do that. it's one of his peculiarities since he's so great at showing. One of the strongest visual storytellers in the movie but he also loves "storytelling" via the characters actually TELLING THE STORIES. which is weird.

October 5, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Peggy Sue: I felt similarly. There was something "put-on" about the whole thing. Nothing felt organic, and I never shook the impression away that I was watching actors and not genuine characters. Didn't like it.

October 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBVR

I do want to see this as I'm a fan of Almodovar's work as I enjoyed I'm So Excited!.

October 5, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

I love it, and this movie is his most pessimistic one: people commit the same mistakes for generations, people can't communicate properly, and then people die and we don't get the chance to make peace. It's so painful.

October 5, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Saw it weeks ago and didn't like it at first.
But kind of stucked in my head for days, slowburning even now.
Probably would apreciate more in second or third viewing.

October 6, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterchatan

I agree word by word with Peggy Sue. Fake and pompous describe this film to perfection.
And the voice over!!! There's a particular ridiculous example ( SMALL SPOILER AHEAD) when we see Julieta tossing her dauther's bithday cake year after year expecting she comes back, and only a moment later we have the voice over describing exactly what we just saw, that she tossed the cake every year. It made me mad!

October 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSeisgrados

I've seen comparisons to BROKEN EMBRACES; are they apt? Because I loved that film. (Come to think of it, I remember BROKEN EMBRACES getting a similarly mixed reception, but it may be my second-favorite Almodovar after Volver.)

October 6, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

Loved this movie... almodovar always and forever.

October 6, 2016 | Unregistered Commentersummer

I liked it a lot; that ending in particular was very moving.

[SPOILERS] Any other director would have shown us Julieta finally reunited with her daughter. But, like in The Skin I Live In, the reunion can only happen off-screen, as if it was too moving to be captured on screen. I loved it.[/SPOILERS]

October 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

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