Julieta (2016)

Writer & Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Cast: Emma Suárez, Adriana Ugarte, Inma Cuesta, Rossy de Palma.

I love, love, love Pedro Almodóvar’s movies. I wish I could say that I’ve seen all twenty of his movies, but I’ve only seen nine of them. That said, I’ve loved every single one of them and consider the director one of my absolute favorites. His use of color, his scripts, his casting choices, pacing, editing, all amount to works of true cinema – which is hard to say these days. There are not many auteurs left, so we are lucky to have someone like Almodóvar still making great works of art, and still experimenting four decades into his career as a filmmaker.

Julieta is very much an Almodóvar movie, and yet is also a departure. When the end credits rolled, I realized why the storyline had felt familiar to me. The film is inspired by three short stories by Nobel prize winner Alice Munro, and appear in her collection Runaway, which I devoured a couple of years ago (just before beginning this blog project). Almodóvar was able to capture the essence of the stories, and translate them seamlessly into a Spanish set story (the originals take place in Munro’s native Canada). I found out that at one point the director had intended to film the movie in Canada and in English, but ultimately changed his mind. While it would have been interesting to see what he could have done with a movie not in his native Spanish, I am so glad he made the choices he did, because the end result is a beautiful and haunting study on silence, loss, and grief.

I listened to a podcast interview with the director while I was at the gym yesterday, and I heard him state that this film was crafted as a full-on drama from beginning to end. Almodóvar worked very hard to take out all comedic elements from the script and from his actor’s performances during rehearsals – a hard feat given that there is always a comedic undertone to the director’s work. This clearly showed, even though there were still some funny moments, the director can’t help himself, and they were welcome – it would be too macabre otherwise. The other interesting tidbit was that Almodóvar asked his actresses never to cry in their scenes, no matter how melancholic or devastating the events. He wasn’t interested in melodrama this time, and this proved one of the most brilliant choices, for there is never the catharsis of tears provided. And that is one of the best aspects of this masterpiece.

I’ve heard people compare Julieta to works of Hitchcock, and the director graciously stated that Hitchcock is always an inspiration anytime someone wishes to play with themes related to the thriller or suspense. But to be honest, I didn’t see any Hitchcock in this film, instead I believe that Antonioni, more specifically L’Avventura, was a point of reference for the film, as similar themes, visuals, locations, and even shots are mirrored. Especially the abrupt and mysterious disappearance of a character.

Visually, though, this movie is completely Almodóvarian in every way. The opening shot is saturated in the director’s signature color, red, and although it’s a close-up of fabric, the folds in what later turns out to be a robe, are extremely vaginal. My friend, whom I went to see the film with, and I looked at each other and nodded our heads in unison. Yep. This is definitely an Almodóvar movie. A terra-cotta sculpture with a severed phallus only continues this theme – the film is not really interested in its tangential male characters, this film is about women, and especially how women fare, survive, crumble, overcome, grieve.

Almodóvar joked that this is his first film in which he utilized blank, white walls in the background. This is only partially true. There are still vibrant, colorful, and pattern-covered walls throughout the film, but when there is a white one, it is stark and brilliant, and just as significant, maybe more so. There is also not a single frame in which the color red does not appear – it is everywhere: clothing, makeup, walls, cars, upholstery, art. In the absence of the old technicolor technology, the director must create his own effects, and he does so brilliantly, no pun intended.

I went into the film knowing nothing about the storyline, and I intend not to disclose any of it here. I don’t want to give away what happens, because although not terribly important, the story is told through the eyes of the actresses playing Julieta: Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte (the device the director uses to switch from the younger to the older Julieta is masterful in and of itself). Originally the film was supposed to be called Silencio, after the third of Munro’s linked stories, but he ended up changing it to the name of the protagonist. Silence is the running theme throughout the film, for in the absence of noise is when life, growth, and pain really takes place. So do yourself a favor if you live somewhere close to a theater playing this film (New York City, in my case, close to Columbus Circle). Buy a ticket, sit back, and take in the breathtaking work of one of the few masters of cinema still working today. You will not be sorry.

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