Keswick Film Club - Reviews - Julieta

Reviews - Julieta


Reviewed By Stephen Pye

Pedro Almodovar's magnificent new film Julieta, which was greatly enjoyed by 138 people at the Alhambra last Sunday eve, is a swirling family melodrama, full of reversals, flashbacks, and jarring plot twists. It has the disorienting feel of a late Hitchcock film like Vertigo - and one of its stars, Adriana Ugarte, even looks a little like the femme fatale Kim Novak in that film.

The Alberto Iglesias music is as eerie and as full of foreboding as the scores that Bernard Herrmann used to write for Hitchcock. There is a strong strain of fatalism to the storytelling, a sense that the characters here can't influence events in their own lives or to do anything to avoid the grief heading their way.

Julieta (Emma Suárez) is first encountered as a seemingly contented middle-aged woman. We can tell by the paintings and books in her modernist Madrid apartment that she is an art lover. She is affluent and glamorous. Julieta is planning to leave Spain to start a new life in Portugal with her boyfriend, Lorenzo. By chance, walking on the streets one day, she bumps into Bea, a childhood friend of her daughter, Antia. Bea mentions that she has seen Antia recently.

This news is like a thunderbolt for Julieta and prompts the prolonged flashback in which we learn the circumstances in which Antia was conceived; what happened to her father and why mother and daughter have been estranged for so long.

Ugarte plays Julieta as a younger woman. She is a classics teacher who has just finished a stand-in job in a school, covering for someone on maternity leave. Now, she has time on her hands. During a long train journey, she sits opposite a mysterious older man, who seems to be hitting on her. She also meets Xoan (Daniel Grao), soon to be her lover, for the first time.

Almodovar films this night-time journey in dream-like fashion. Julieta sees a stag in heat racing alongside the train. She has a brush with death. She makes the connection with Xoan. Soon afterwards, she visits him in the idyllic fishing town in which he lives. They move in together.

For a while, the new family is happy enough. Julieta and Xoan have their child, Antia, together. She is suspicious, though, of his relationship with his old friend, Ava (Imma Cuesta), an artist who specialises in strangely phallic sculptures.

Julieta is adapted from three stories by Alice Munro. At times, it skirts close to soap opera. The plot is heavily reliant on coincidence. This is a story of a family coming apart. There is guilt, misunderstanding and betrayal. Almodovar tackles what is at times very downbeat material with his customary flamboyance, using plenty of strident red in the colour scheme.

Initially, it is disconcerting to have two actresses who don't actually look that much alike playing the same role. Both excel. Ugarte captures Julieta's recklessness and lust for life as a young woman. Suárez shows how she has become a much more guarded and defensive personality while also conveying in heart-rending fashion her character's bewilderment and panic at the thought her daughter may have abandoned her.

Julieta is a staggering return to form by one of this world's greatest living directors. It turned out to be guilt soaked pleasure for our film-goers and members on a cold, frosty, evening.

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

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