Julieta - Cannes Film Festival 2016 Review
Pedro Almodóvar, one of Spain’s most-well known directors, is typically appreciated for over-the-top comedies or over-the-top dramas. His new release, Julieta is based on three short stories by Canadian author Alice Munro. The film is the director’s most sober yet. It is also beautifully acted by the two incarnations of Julieta, Adriana Ugarte (as a younger Julieta) and Emma Suárez (as an older Julieta). However, its plot feels incomplete - and were it not for the performances of its lead actresses, Almódovar’s Cannes entry would feel hollow.
We meet Julieta as a middle-aged woman, when a chance encounter with an old friend provokes a crisis. Rather than moving to Portugal with her boyfriend, Lorenzo (Darío Grandinetti), as planned, she decides to break up with him, and stay in Madrid. The source of her pain, we discover, is her daughter Antía, with whom she seems estranged.
Through an extended flashback, we unearth her story; there’s a suicide on a train; the fisherman Xoan (Daniel Grao), who becomes her husband; the tragedy that breaks her family apart.
The problem is that when we’re caught up to the present, we expect a resolution to Julieta’ situation - a third act to her story. There is indeed a minute change, but it doesn’t feel enough to justify the time spent following her past; or even make for a satisfying mystery. As a result, the director's attempt to explore guilt - the theme around which the story revolves - is never fully developed.
Almódovar directs well (the moment in which Ugarte gives way to Suárez is really very beautiful) and with a thriller-type tension which sustains interest (though it never pays off). The soundtrack builds up this sense of Hitchockian foreboding. Set design and costuming are, as with every film by this director, very distinctive. It’s all bright colours (lots and lots of reds), chunky jewellery, and hairstyles which very obviously change to reflect a character's evolution.
Ugarte and Suárez are both excellent - the former in her uneasy innocence, the latter in dignified, resigned, and overwhelming pain. It is really brilliant casting - both women convincingly and seamlessly play the same person, and with the same level of skill. Rossy de Palma is terrifying as Xoan’s housekeeper Marian, adding to the taut atmosphere.
Julieta is an entertaining, interesting watch, but its ending is disappointing - not for its abruptness (which is quite clever), but rather because in its aftermath, it feels that something is missing to make its story worthwhile. It’s Almódovar at his quietest, but not at his best.