The Spanish filmmaker who gave Penelope Cruz and Victoria Abril some of their most interesting roles made a much-anticipated return to the Croisette with his 20th film, Julieta. Inspired by three short stories by Canadian author Alice Munro, taken from her collection Runaway, Almodovar has moved the story to Spain and tweaked it to create his own Julieta, a woman plagued with guilt.
Fiftysomething Julieta (Emma Suárez) lives in Berlin and is about to move in with her boyfriend, until she bumps into Ava (Inma Cuesta), a childhood friend of her estranged daughter Antia who she bumped into in Italy. Juliet’s emotions are stirred, memories are unearthed. On a whim, she rents an apartment in the building she used to live in before her daughter left, and begins to pen a letter to her.
The film flashes back to how Julieta met Antia’s father. A young literature teacher in the 80s – kudos for the costume design – young Julieta (Adriana Ugarte) is on an overnight train where a middle-aged passenger tries to strike up a conversation with her. Misinterpreting his intentions, she escapes to the bar where she meets hunky passenger Xoan (Daniel Frao), a fisherman whose wife has been in a coma for the past five years.
As the train beings to roll again after making a stop, it suddenly screeches to a violent halt. The lost soul who had attempted to speak to her had thrown himself on the rails. Julieta is ridden with guilt. Could she have been this desperate man’s last chance to live? Guilt throws its first anchor in her soul.
So she lives her life to the fullest in Xoan’s sexy company. We see their reflection in the window as they make love on the night train, before parting ways after their arrival. Until one day when she shows up in his quaint fishing town. She discovers his wife had just passed away and they rekindle their romance. Antia arrives nine months later and they live happily ever after in his seaside home. In a magnificent meteorological shot, fateful dark clouds roll their way into their tranquil life a few years later and Xoan and his fellow fishermen all perish at sea. Again, Julieta feels guilt for not having stopped him from going fishing. And years later when they are living in Madrid, Antia blames her mother for his death.
Set to a Hitchcockian score by Almodovar’s loyal musical accomplice Alberto Iglesias, sweeping over magnificent lamdscapes, the film’s intrigue grows with each frame and there is a genius shot where the young Julieta is switched for the older version (I won’t say more), but it is elegant and seamless. The switch, however, also shifts the dynamic of the film. Julieta loses spunk, the story loses pace and clarity. Antia’s walkout is sudden and inexplicable. We never quite grasp the cracks in the mother and daughter relationship – in fact, things seemed fine – which is so central to the story. Yet it gets sidelined.
A special mention to Almodovar cast regular Rossy de Palma who plays Xoan’s loyal, caricatural housekeeper, Marian, adding some comic relief to the dramatic film. She never misses a beat, unlike the film, which skips a few.
For more from our Cannes coverage, click here. Or click on any of the review links below:
- ‘Paterson’ Review:
- ‘Personal Shopper’ Review
- From the Land of the Moon Review
- ‘I, Daniel Blake’ Review
- The BFG Review
- Cafe Society Review
- Slack Bay Review
- Staying Vertical Review