Like in many of his previous films every scene of “Julieta,” the new Almodovar that premiered in Cannes today, is visually perfect: flawless lighting, pristine combinations of color, evocative sculptures, colorful fabrics that stand in as metaphors for love, aging, masculinity, all of which are a part of the rich ecosystem of symbols that propel Almodovar’s films. The venerable, La Mancha-born Almodovar turns 68 next September. Another important aspect of the palette of the film is the original soundtrack, composed by Alberto Iglesias, perhaps Almodovar’s most faithful collaborators. They have worked together on all twenty of Almodovar’s films.
To the casual observer, the overly-conscious design of Almodovar’s films will seem like just that, deliberate artificiality as essential component of storytelling. But if you dig a little deeper you’ll realize that “Julieta” is organized like clockwork, with many carefully-arranged moving parts, each playing an essential role.
Young Julieta (TV actress Adriana Ugarte) is an idealistic substitute teacher teaching Greek mythology. Her six month-teaching assignment over, she travels across the country to another one. On the train she meets Xoan (Daniel Grao), a married man whose wife has been in a coma for the last five years. They have an affair together. Their daughter, Antia, goes on a spiritual retreat in the Aragonese Pyrenees at eighteen. The sect she joins brainwashes her and Antia breaks all ties with her family as a result. Older Juliet is alone (her husband died at sea), wondering why her daughter left her and where she could be.
The film was adapted from “Runaway,” the book of collected stories written by Alice Munro that was first published by McLelland and Stewart in 2004.
There’s an old, and there is a young, Julieta. Almodovar shows Julieta’s life in current-day Madrid, followed by a long flashback to her encounter with Xoan, and then alternates between her past and present lives. It’s a well-functioning story about the disquiet of being separated from a loved one, the grief of losing someone close and the passage of time, “Julieta” is one of the better Almodovar films I’ve seen in a few years. It touches on a broad range of human events that most people will be able to relate to. And although Almodovar hems closely to the same preoccupations with aging, family, grief and guilt, there is a sense that this is a filmmaker who renews himself with each new film.
This is Adriana Ugarte’s first collaboration with Almodovar. Of Ugarte and Emma Suarez (who plays the older Julieta) Almodovar said that they, “now form part of my particular Olympus where they rub shoulders with Penelope Cruz, Carmen Maura and Victoria Abril, Marisa Paredes and Cecilia Roth, my muses.”
In the press notes for the film Almodovar said, “almost all my films gain from the second time they’re seen. I’d like to persuade my brother [Agustin Almodovar, who produces all his brother’s films] to offer a free second viewing to people who have already seen the film.”