I find the best way to approach Almodovar movies is to go in with as little information and expectation as possible and leave thoughts of rule and construct behind. And keep a pair of sunglasses handy, in case his reds go crazy. And the opening image is a provocatively red one.
Julieta is a serious-looking enigmatic woman. She’s about to move to Portugal from Madrid with her partner, Lorenzo, (Dario Grandinetti), when she bumps into an old bestie of her daughter’s, Beatriz (Micelle Jenner), which is a serious kick in the guts. She hadn’t seen her daughter, Antia, in years, and once Julieta finds out her daughter is in Madrid, she drops everything and stays. She moves back into their old building, sadly hoping for some contact, and starts to write out her past as she tries to find the reason for their breakup, and her story unfolds in flashbacks.
Julieta’s life is then played out over many decades, which creates the challenge of believing a 30-something actress is 20, 30 and almost 40, which you can only forgive if the acting is enough to distract you, and it does. Adriana Ugarte is very good as the younger Julieta, wearing lots of blue, although some latter scenes aren’t as convincing as her earlier ones. Emma Suarez looks a little too permanently pained as the older Julietta, but these are trying times and you can understand it as her story unfolds. And the transition between actresses is done brilliantly.
All the support cast are good, particularly the scheming Marian (Rossy De Palma) who is the only quirky character. This is quite dour for an Almodovar film.
His love of red is everywhere. It’s usually balanced by a pastiche of pastels, but it’s a muted colour pallette for this one to suit the mood. This makes the red almost overbearing, although the transition from blue to red is clever.
The story was adapted from a series of short stories from ‘Runaway’ by Alice Munro. It probably should have been called ‘A Ship of Fools’ such is the moral shallowness of almost everyone around her. This is a film about the pain of loss and guilt. What I found hard to understand was the guilt.
It seemed like Julieta’s ability to empathise with the conga line of imbeciles who inhabited her life was her downfall. Most of us would have had tennis elbow from all the bitch slapping that was required.
And the ending left me so infuriatingly frustrated, I wondered if Almodovar was playing the same trick on us. But I was involved, so Julieta had embraced me.
Almodovar is such a cinematic legend, even spellcheck knows how to spell his name correctly. His films have been a challenge for the mind and a delight for the eyes and Julieta is an example of what happens when he is ever so slightly off his game. Everything, from the script to the direction is off-key, but it is still a warm and enjoyable movie. Which is only a disappointment because this man has produced red-hot heat.
Con’s Score: 3 splashes of red
Con Nats: Talking Arts