Pedro Almodovar is in a quieter, more serious mood with Julieta, a gripping and heartbreaking psychological drama, with first-rate performances from Adriana Ugarte and Emma Suarez as the eponymous Julieta in her younger and older incarnations.
Told in flashback, the story begins as the older Julieta is about to move away from Madrid with her boyfriend Lorenzo (Dario Grandinetti) only for a chance encounter with an old friend of her (presumably) estranged daughter Antia to mysteriously provoke a change of heart. Deciding to stay in Madrid, Julieta then beings a chronicle addressed to Antia, explaining the whole truth about her past, starting with how she met her father Xoan (Daniel Grao).
In addition to the leads, the supporting cast are all very good (Dario Grandinetti makes me think of a Spanish Pete Postlethwaite for some reason). Almodovar’s direction is superb throughout. His clever use of white, blue and red at key points of the narrative make this sometimes feel like more of a noir thriller, or even a Hitchcock film like Vertigo. This mood is enhanced by Alberto Inglesias’s Bernard Herrmann-esque music score and other elements such as the presence of Rossy de Palma’s somewhat sinister, faintly Danvers-esque hired help Marian.
Thematically this concerns the viral, sometimes generational nature guilt and grief, drawing occasional parallels with Greek mythology and even, at one point, hinting at contemporary relevance with the idea of young people discovering themselves through cults and religious fanaticism. For people who appreciate warnings about such things, the film does contain some sex scenes and nudity, though nothing to my mind unjustified by context, and certainly far more restrained than one sometimes encounters in Almodovar territory. In fact, here we find Almodovar at his most compassionate as a chronicler of the human condition.
All things considered, Julieta is a rich, satisfying mystery melodrama. I found it engrossing and very moving.