Movie review: Julieta
Pedro Almodóvar’s 20th feature film finds female beauty deep within the creases of profound loss as we watch two women bear the burden of being Julieta
Starring: Emma Suárez, Adriana Ugarte, Rossy de Palma, Imma Cuesta,
Daniel Grao, Sara Jiménez
Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar
Running time: 99 minutes
By Katherine Monk
Pedro Almodóvar and beauty have enjoyed a tumultuous love affair, and we’ve watched it unfold over the course of his 40-year career through 20 features.
Some were psychological pillow fights: A playful engagement with ideas of sexuality and vanity, such as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988). But others had real edge and turned into a George and Martha brand of marriage brittle: Hot passion cooled and carefully crafted into hardened resentment, such as The Skin I Live In (2011).
In the latter, the Spanish director literally deconstructed beauty via a plastic surgeon (Antonio Banderas) who offers experimental, indestructible skin to one of his patients with the implicit promise it will make her beauty last forever.
On the surface, Almodóvar’s latest isn’t about beauty. Julieta is loosely adapted from three short stories contained in Alice Munro’s 2004 collection, Runaway, and is largely concerned with love and loss.
Yet, two women play the title character: First we meet the older Julieta (Emma Suárez) as she struggles to leave her Madrid apartment for a new life and a new lover in Portugal. Then, as she drifts backward in time to write a letter to her missing daughter, we encounter Julieta as she was thirty years earlier. Now played by Adriana Ugarte, she is stunning, youthful and confident.
There’s no question the older Julieta is still beautiful. Her boyfriend is constantly affirming her attractiveness, but she’s lost something. The soulful glow she had before has vanished behind a stony veil of guilt and self-imposed misery.
Tragedy has transformed Julieta, and because she is a woman, and because beauty informs so much of the female experience, and because nobody is more obsessed with the mysterious relationship between beauty and the double-X sex than Pedro Almodovar, Julieta ranks right up there with Almodovar’s best.
The film’s success lies in the creases, in the shaded areas that suggest the form lying underneath.
He offers his device in the opening shot. Bright red fabric undulates to a breathy rhythm. The pleats have an undeniably labial look. As the shot widens, Almodovar gives birth to Julieta – already broken.
We learn about her missing daughter. Then, we learn about her missing lover Xoan (Daniel Grao), a stranger she met on a train many years earlier when she was still a Classics Professor.
When we first see this new Julieta, whether we’re aware of it or not, we’ve already adjusted our opinion of her. She is one of the beautiful people, and therefore she occupies a different, subconsciously or consciously privileged place in the world.
Almodóvar reinforces this with her first encounter: An older man who enters her compartment and wants to talk. She feels uncomfortable, and so do we as the suggestion of seduction creeps through the sliding door.
She bolts, setting in motion a series of romantically tragic events that form the rest of the film.
No. It’s not about beauty, per se, but this is the thread that Almodovar uses to pull at the rest of the tapestry. He unweaves Julieta’s identity by grasping her own understanding of herself; a series of knots created by events and the perceptions of others.
At one point, Julieta is all loose ends. Yet, she doesn’t fall apart. We suddenly see the form beneath, the invisible soul scarred and battered, but still breathing.
In short, Almodóvar reveals the true essence of his obsession. We don’t see the beauty. We actually feel it.
THE EX-PRESS, January 16, 2017