The combo of a film directed by the flamboyant genius that is Pedro Almodovar (Volver, Tie Me Up! tie Me Down!) and a script based on work by Canadian short story writer Alice Munro (The Love of a Good Woman, Runaway) is an intriguing one to say the least. The pull to watch this film for me was big. In the end while this was not Almodovar’s best film it is still better than most else out there.
Middle aged Julieta (Emma Suarez) lives in Madrid with her boyfriend, Lorenzo (Dario Grandinetti – Talk to Her, Wild Tales). They have made plans to move to Portugal. Those plans are in the wind when Julieta runs into Bea (Michelle Jenner), the former best friend of her estranged daughter Antia. Bea tells her that Antia lives in Switzerland, is married and has three children.
With the hopes of reconnecting with Antia, Julieta cancels her Portugal plans and moves back into the building she used to 12 years ago when her communication with Antia ceased. Julieta hopes that Antia will send her letters at the address she knew.
Having this time of waiting, Julieta fills it by writing her life story. This is a painful experience because her teenage years were not exactly pleasant. As a teenager (Sara Jimenez) she met and fell in love with Galician fisherman named Xoan. This causes her to have to live two lives. One with her family and her young daughter Antia and one with her love Xoan. A sudden and tragic accident changes everything and plunges Julieta into a depression.
In such a state Julieta is helped by Antia and Bea, but then suddenly Antia disappears with no explanation. This all happens after a vacation and there are no clues as to where she has gone.
There is almost a Hitchcockian feel and look to the film. It’s mysterious atmosphere, sumptuous look, great production design, and A-1 score. Where the failings come (surprising because usually Munro and Almodovar are usually two people who can hold you rapt with their storytelling opportunities) is courtesy of the story, which is rather thin at times.
Where it does operate well is as a character study. We examine humanity, adulthood, heartbreak, damaged relationships, fate, consequences, and the issue of regret quite closely. Plenty of philosophical stuff for those of you interested in that kind of thing to sink your teeth into. What makes this all very palatable is that it is all rather realistic and relatable. What the characters are going through we have all been there, done that in one way or another.
Because Almodovar is such a directorial wizard he keeps it from getting stagnant or dull by keeping things moving forward at a good clip. He is aided by the fact that his cast pretty much to a woman and the odd man or two, turns in strong performances. Sometimes though the potential emotion was lost due to the fact that Almodovar decided to keep things rather observational rather than involved.
-Portrait of Julieta
-Celebrating Director Pedro Almodovar