Julieta (2016)

Review #1,393

Director:  Pedro Almodovar
Cast:  Emma Suárez, Adriana Ugarte, Daniel Grao, Imma Cuesta, Dario Grandinetti
Plot:  After a casual encounter, a brokenhearted woman decides to confront her life and the most important events about her stranded daughter.

Genre:  Drama / Romance
Awards:  Nom. for Palme d'Or (Cannes).
Runtime:  99min
Rating:  M18 for some sexuality/nudity 
International Sales:  FilmNation Entertainment
Singapore Distributor:  Shaw Organisation

Gosh, I miss the work of Pedro Almodovar.  It has been six years since I last saw a film of his—Broken Embraces (2009).  The newest addition to his filmography, Julieta, is certainly a better-reviewed film than the comedy flop that came immediately before it, I’m So Excited! (2013). 

But his latest is nowhere near as substantial and emotionally dense as some of his greatest pictures like All About My Mother (1999) or Talk to Her (2002).  Still it earned Almodovar another shot at the elusive Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, but the buzz surrounding it at that time was rather muted, and it’s easy to see why. 

Julieta is a minor mystery-esque work with a strong Hitchcockian sense of tone and foreshadowing, largely due to Alberto Iglesias’ ominous if beautiful score, and the use of strong, unsettling colours.  The way the narrative is constructed, told in flashback with twists and turns, also hides and reveals certain vital information. 

Starring Emma Suarez as the titular character, who looks back at her younger self (played by the ravishing Adriana Ugarte) in a bid to recount in writing what actually happened to the relationship with her estranged daughter, Julieta is the kind of film that already knows its back story, but Almodovar wants to unspool it for you, through a down-memory-lane path that suggests a search for truth or redemption of some sort for the lead character.

All these sound tantalizing for audiences accustomed or new to Almodovar’s work, but Julieta while spellbinding and sensually-crafted at times, is marred by a weak and abrupt denouement.  It is such a waste of an ending, certainly disappointing, but that doesn’t make it a bad film, because much of Julieta is effortlessly executed with an assured hand.  The brisk pacing and careful misdirection are touches of a master, and there are moments when you feel like you are seeing something great. 

Perhaps a mix of over-confidence in his material as well as the uncharacteristic mellowing of his usual daring and uncompromising forays into the dark, mysterious recesses of female neuroses has led Almodovar to become a slighter filmmaker than before.  You should still see this, but let’s hope his next outing is a more fervent and impassioned reminder why he is Spain’s most acclaimed filmmaker since the late Luis Bunuel. 

Verdict:  A minor mystery-esque work by Almodovar, spellbinding and sensually-crafted at times, but marred by a weak denouement.


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