Thursday, December 15, 2016

“Julieta”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a screening by The New York Times Film Club of the new drama “Julieta”, directed by Pedo Almodovar. 


When a widow is abruptly abandoned by her adult daughter, will she try to locate her after learning the daughter doesn’t want to be found?


Looking forward to leaving her Madrid apartment to live with her boyfriend in Portugal, Julieta must abruptly alter her plans when she discovers her estranged adult daughter Antía was in touch with a former childhood friend.  This new information releases a flood of memories for Julieta, who anxiously documents her past in a letter—which soon expands into more of a journal – that she wishes to somehow get into Antía’s hands at some point so her daughter will get her side of the story about their rift.   However, the more Julieta is forced to revisit her past, the deeper she sinks into depression. 

As a young substitute teacher, Julieta met Xoan, a fisherman, during a long train ride.  After their trip, they kept in touch, even though she knew he was married; following his wife’s death, Julieta visited Xoan to pursue their relationship, which results in the birth of their only child, Antía.  Over time, Julieta finds Ava, Xoan’s long-time friend, was having an affair with him while his wife was sick; Julieta worries that Ava and Xoan are continuing their trysts.  One summer while Antía is at camp, Julieta and Xoan argue over Ava; Julieta storms out while Xoan goes to work fishing.  By the time Julieta returns, a major storm moves in and Xoan has not come home; soon, the police inform her that Xoan’s fishing boat was caught in a squall and he perished. 

Upon returning from camp, Julieta breaks the news to Antía about her father; by now, Antía has formed a very close friendship with Bea, whom she met at camp – the two become increasingly inseparable as Antía deals with her loss.  As time moves on, Julieta falls into a deep depression and a now teenage Antía must care for her, with Bea’s help.  By the time Antía  becomes a legal adult, she decides to attend a religious retreat –but just as she is scheduled to return, the operator of the retreat informs Julieta that Antía is gone, leaving word only that the religious awakening she experienced at the retreat has caused her to take a new direction in life without any contact from Julieta.  But when Julieta then becomes obsessed with tracking down her only offspring, will the effort be fruitful or will she be consumed by this for the rest of her days? 


While “Julieta” could be characterized as a deeply moving story, it’s a little unclear whether it is life-affirming or simply depressing.  Part of the reason for that is the movie suffers from being severely melodramatic, to the point that a viewer might have to wonder how realistic some of these situations could truly be.  Sometimes, it feels like Iron Man might be more believable than a few of the events in “Julieta”, so extraordinary and overwrought are they.  All of this happening to one woman – or even a single family – is really fairly fantastic. 

Perhaps it is better left to experts like psychologists and sociologists to account for why some of the richest movies about women are frequently made by directors who happen to be gay men.  Certainly, Almodovar has a history of this and once again he seems to succeed in plumbing the depths of women’s emotions in “Julieta” – here, largely, grief and guilt.  He treats his subjects with respect, wonder and admiration but manages to avoid making the men in their life appear as nothing more than physically appealing cads.  Almodovar’s women are taken seriously – but in the case of “Julieta”, perhaps a little too seriously as they tend to come across as humorless. 

Almodovar’s latest is neither a complete fail nor an utter success; it lies somewhere in the middle.  Among the highlights are the visuals; the director seems to take extreme glee in framing shots cleverly.  The first shot looks like a red curtain, but we soon learn it is merely Julieta’s dress.  There is another scene where Julieta is rifling through a wastebasket she has put atop a table; the composition of the shot looks like the painting on the nearby wall – a large picture of a man’s face – may be either looking at Julieta frantically searching through the garbage or simply peering into the basket with her.  Possibly the best visual is that of nature itself; Almodovar has treated us with a couple of scenes in the mountainous Spanish countryside which are breathtaking.   

Julieta (2016) on IMDb

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