Julieta (2016) / Drama

MPAA Rated: R for some sexuality/nudity
Running Time: 99 min.

Cast: Emma Suarez, Adriana Ugarte, Daniel Grao, Inma Cuesta, Dario Grandinetti, Michelle Jenner, Rossy de Palma
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Screenplay: Pedro Almodovar (based on the short stories, "Chance", "Soon", and "Silence" by Alice Munro)
Review published March 31, 2017

Emma Suarez (The Red Squirrel, Earth) stars as the middle-aged representation of the title character, on the verge of leaving Madrid for Portugal with her boyfriend Lorenzo (Grandinetti, Wild Tales).  Julieta ends up running into an old friend of her daughter, Antia, who has been estranged missing from her mother's life for about a dozen years.  The knowledge that Antia is still out there, and has children (Julieta's grandchildren) fills her with longing for a re-connection. So begins her journey, both internally in a search for the reasons why Antia parted ways with her, and externally, in the hope of a reunion. As Julieta begins to write a letter, she finds her memories of her former life, former love, and current pain come to the surface.

Pedro Almodovar returns to his more female-centric melodramas with Julieta, a very loose-hanging and interconnected adaptation of three separate short stories from Nobel Prize-winning Canadian author Alice Munro that feature the character of Juliet.  It's a serious tale, filled with longing, grief, and painful memories, while also done with Almodovar's trademark flair for sensuality and wry comic underpinnings.  Still, it's a relatively intimate character study for the director, who sees the quiet inner turmoil for his main character, pulling back from his more ostentatious flourishes to deliver a more small-scale and personal story as he's made in his career.

Beautifully shot and lushly scored, the spin on the film includes Hitchcockian homage (nods to Strangers on a Train and Rebecca are especially evident), even though the film doesn't exactly play for thrills or major suspense.  It's more of a psychological portrait of a woman trying desperately to regain a very important loss in her life, willing to do anything she can to heal those wounds that have now been freshly re-opened with new information on her daughter's whereabouts.  Almodovar, who originally had planned to set the film in New York City, in English, and to cast Meryl Streep as the lead, re-evaluated the decision due to his own need for the story to feel authentic, changing the setting to Madrid, where the prolonged alienation of an adult daughter toward her mother is especially rare, increasing the sense of anguish and longing for Julieta.

While Julieta represents a return of sorts for the filmmaker to territory that he has become known for, i.e. tales of mothers, it may be a bounce back to a certain form, but it's also covering a bit too much familiar ground to rank up there with the likes of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, All About My Mother, or Volver.  Nevertheless, Almodovar fans will likely embrace the film for that familiarity given the lackluster reception of more recent efforts like I'm So Excited, and while it won't put the auteur on the map for new cinephiles, the old-school faithful will champion Julieta, which was Spain's submission to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film consideration, as one of the better films of 2016.

Qwipster's rating:

2017 Vince Leo