Haunting Julieta a Profoundly Human Mystery
Julieta (Emma Suárez) has just learned her long lost daughter Antía (Blanca Parés) is still alive. After a chance meeting with her child’s former best friend Beatriz (Michelle Jenner), the middle-aged single woman is understandably struck by this revelation. See, back when Antía turned 18 she cut off all ties to her past, leaving Julieta to wonder why things turned out the way they did and what part she played in her daughter’s seemingly sudden need to disappear.
Julieta, based on a series of stories written by Nobel Prize winning author Alice Munro, bends through time and space with ease, legendary Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar (Talk to Her, Volver) weaving back and forth between memories of heartache, rapture, tragedy and love with eloquent precision. It is a movie that exists in that neither world sitting in that realm that lingers between past and present, allowing for a deft, complex and beautifully understated examination of the nightmares that haunt us and the small delicate ecstasies that hug the individual like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night.
I’m not sure which facets of the film I love more. The present day material with the world-weary, if yet still ready to tackle all challenges, Julieta is masterfully complex, even when an initial glance at what is going on might lead the viewer to ascertain otherwise. Suárez delivers an extraordinarily multifaceted performance, much of it internalized and almost every piece played close to the vest. Yet there is a bracing openness to what the actress is doing, a miraculous rawness to this portrait of grief and resilience that grew on me in power and majesty as the film progressed.
But then there are the portions set years prior concerning Julieta’s whirlwind romance with Xoan (Daniel Grao), an enchantingly masculine fisherman who sweeps the young college student off of her feet. Played during these portions by the stylish Adriana Ugarte, there is a graceful eloquence to these sections that are haunting in their subtle, authentically human intricacies. So much transpires during these years, including Antía’s birth, her growth into a poised, clever youngster (Priscilla Delgado) and the cementing of her close, sisterly friendship with Beatriz (Sara Jiménez), all of it influenced by a sudden tragedy that will affect both her and her mother’s lives forever.
Both sections flow into one another with dexterous elasticity, Almodóvar moving from one story back to the other with confidence. He melds all of the Munro’s loosely connected stories into a seamless whole, allowing for moments of introspection and realization that left me dumbstruck while also reaching for a tissue. This is a story where truth isn’t always the answer and honesty doesn’t heal every wound, the scars left by happenstance, innuendo and loss ones that can’t ever be erased yet can just as clearly still be healed. Julieta’s resilience and ability to carry on is cause for celebration, and while not all of her decisions are ones to applaud, each still stands out as being made by a woman of intelligence and fortitude who refuses to quit on either herself or those that she loves.
I will say, as deeply sincere as all of this is, it did take a little while for my overall reactions to the film to make themselves known to me. Almodóvar, like he has done numerous times in the past in many of his prior classics, refuses to make things easy on the viewer. The crushing blow of Antía’s disappearance and the apparent reasons behind it are sharp and angry, while metaphorical images of Julieta’s travels, especially via train, can initially appear heavy-handed and obvious.
But the reality for both items is anything but what those first impressions imply, and it wasn’t until I spent time pondering all of the ins and outs of Almodóvar’s weaving of Munro’s stories did it suddenly strike me just what it was the gifted filmmaker was attempting to do. The sheer bravado of it all is coupled with the vaporous sophistication he brings to the table, the broad plain of emotions being explored remarkable. I’m shaken in ways that go beyond description, the long-lasting impact of Julieta’s story deserving of additional exploration and discussion, not to mention multiple viewings. Julieta is superb, and to say any more could potentially ruin any number of its more intimate surprises.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 3½ (out of 4)