Pedro Almodóvar has been making his unique brand of melodramas and comedies since his early punk days in 1980. Now with nearly 40 years of filmmaking and half as many films behind him he has a rate of consistency that ranks above most directors. It’s gotten to the stage where his name is a brand onto itself, he doesn’t even use the Pedro part anymore on the credits. Almodóvar’s 20th film is Julieta and it’s a comeback after the rare misfire I’m So Excited.
Julieta is loosely based on stories by Alice Munro who is a Canadian writer and originally it was set to be Almodóvar’s English language debut. The Queen of Hollywood Meryl Streep was offered the title role and agreed to doing it. Almodóvar even scouted locations in Canada but decided to film it in his native Spain. Almodóvar has toyed with making a film in English for years Brokeback Mountain and The Paperboy are both films he eventually turned down.
Like most of Almodóvar’s later work it’s a melodrama which concerns the lives of women. Almodóvar is noted for his ability to write for women from the very beginning and this probably comes from being raised mainly by women and being a gay man. It’s about a woman Julieta (Emma Suárez) over the space of her adult life and her relationships, her daughter, grief, heartbreak etc. Adriana Ugarte plays a younger version of Julieta and the transition cut to the older and worn Julieta is a masterclass in filmmaking.
The film like many of Almodóvar’s later films have an element of mystery to it. Julieta is estranged from her daughter Antía (Blanca Parés) for 12 years ever since she went on a spiritual retreat which is never a good idea. She has out of necessarily due to the pain removed almost all evidence of her existence from her life but she runs into her childhood friend who has seen her recently. This chance encounter sends Julieta into her past and brings back all her memories and reignites her desire to see her again. It’s told mostly through flashback with the narrative hook being a letter Julieta is writing to her daughter.
Almodóvar is a master filmmaker and to some extent has gotten better with age; of course some of the early films are great. However ever since All About My Mother (which won him his first Oscar) he has perfected the melodrama over and over. His take has its roots in the Douglas Sirk films of the ’50s and Fassbinder’s queer readings/retellings of them in the ’70s but Almodóvar has reinvented it. Nobody uses colour in the way he does (not even Sirk) and that’s just the type of the paint the production uses to paint a house they use.
The performances from Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte in the double role of Julieta are great which is just expected from Almodóvar at this point. Both are newcomers to working with him but you would think they have worked with him before, they fit his world like a glove. Of course one of Almodóvar’s many muses Rossy de Palma appears in a role as the housekeeper to the younger Julieta and her partner Xoan (Daniel Grao) who is the father of Antía.
Julieta may be one of the “straightest” films Almodóvar has made, it lacks for the most part the queer characters he is known for including in his work. There is a possible lesbian relationship in the film but it’s never confirmed or denied which is something he has always done. It’s beautifully filmed, designed, acted and of course moving and the Bernard Herrmann esq. score adds so much to an already great film.