Director: Pedro Almodovar
Pedro Almodovar is a master of complex tapestries, a director whose understanding of female psychology has placed him among the foremost feminist auteurs working today. It’s ever present in his work, which finds its greatest success in female-driven stories and LGBT-themed narratives. Working within this niche ballpark for the past 29 years, Almodovar has progressively challenged himself to tell ever more daring stories, occasionally seesawing in quality, but never abandoning his brilliant understanding of melodrama. With JULIETA, he has invigorated his familiar infatuation with the conventions of soap-operas, intrigue, and temporal shifts. What’s more, it is Spain’s submission for this year’s Academy Awards and Almodovar’s best film since 2011’s THE SKIN I LIVE IN.
Examining the most formative years of his titular protagonist, Almodovar frames JULIETA as a colorful melodrama, a film that incorporates the director’s fascination with tragedy to great effect. We start with Julieta in her mid-20s. She falls in love with a stranger on a train after a man in her compartment commits suicide. She bears a child. She witnesses losing her mother and her father starting an affair with his housekeeper. Shortly after, her husband also passes away, and Julieta loses touch with her daughter. JULIETA subversively interrogates notions of guilt, doubt, and gender roles without ever losing sight of the psychology behind maternity. It is, at its core, a complex tale of motherhood; one where a woman refuses to compromise her dreams for the responsibilities of a housewife. But JULIETA’s greatest asset is how unforgiving it is with its protagonist. Almodovar is, as his trademark style suggests, devastatingly savage with his characters, forcing them into corners so that they have no choice but to live the lives they hoped to avoid.
Also, that hair! <3
Almodovar’s titular protagonist is a Greek literature professor who lectures on tragedy and mythology. As such, JULIETA makes itself quite an easy read. It’s almost too transparent at times, and cascades with a steady pacing that makes the inevitability of its drama brutally palpable. Almodovar’s camera navigates with a grace and fluidity that is achingly precise and melancholy to a T. It’s a fair complaint to argue that Almodovar has done little to challenge himself as a formalist in the past years, but when tampering with such a subtle screenplay, it’s hard to fault him. There is a sense of elevation in JULIETA that really helps set it apart in his filmography. Men and women are depicted on completely separate planes here. Even when men suffer, they never get the short end of the stick. JULIETA is a discussion of womanhood’s suffering and the inevitability of tragedy. It’s female-driven to the bone, and effortlessly performed.
The casting of Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte as old and young Julieta, respectively, makes for a brilliant pairing. The two perform with unspeakable intensity, propelling the narrative with an understated passion that continually weaves a tangled web during the film’s most innocuous, tender, and bold sequences. It is, as such, a film that plays with our understanding of memory, using temporal shifts to alter the way a character blames the occurrences of the past. Suárez and Ugarte, despite the fact that they are the same person, perceive their losses in wholly different ways. With time, they reflect on details from the past to form new conclusions. But no theory is more valid than the last. Ugarte grows ever more weary and destitute, transitioning from hopeless widow to a complete psychological wreck.
Pictured: Julieta wakes up her mother to read my review
With JULIETA, Almodovar makes a clear statement about a mother’s love. It is only through one’s own motherhood that the tribulations of maternity can be forgiven. JULIETA is a think-tank of memory. A film that insists on a woman’s right to be independent. But it does so by showcasing a story of a woman who is quite literally tethered to domesticity and roped into tragedy by the actions of other men. No man suffers as much as our heroine here, and yet only we can identify this struggle. Almodovar naturally asks countless unanswered questions. Did JULIETA really only fall in love with the man on the train because another man on board killed himself? Did she really lose her professional career because of maternity? These questions aren’t meant to be answered, but rather engaged with. It is an insistence to start a dialogue. A reclamation of a woman’s suffering, and a march of solidarity for all womanhood.