Getting the fate we deserve?

This is my review of Julieta [DVD] [2016].

Middle-aged Julieta is preparing to leave her stylish, if clinical Madrid flat for a move to Portugal with her lover, when a chance meeting brings news of the daughter Antía from whom she has been estranged for years. Immediately changing her plans, Julieta sits down to write the explanatory account of past events which she has concealed but feels Antía is now old enough to understand, if she can be persuaded to open her mind to them. This device of course takes us into a chain of flashbacks, often moving or evocative.

Based on three short stories by the celebrated writer Alice Munro, the Spanish director Almodóvar has produced an excellent film which succeeds through the combination of a well-constructed plot, with hints of Hitchcock, strong dialogue even evident in the subtitles, and skilful, sensitive acting where shifting expressions and body language often reveal more than words.

“Julieta” words on several levels as entertainment, as a study of the often devastating effects of chance, grief and guilt and as pure visual art. Almodóvar is not afraid to spin an essentially straightforward yarn, rendered remarkable with visual effects and a sustained, meticulous attention to detail. The filming draws on contrasting aspects of Spanish life: an old Madrid apartment with overpowering floral wallpaper redeemed by romantic wrought iron balconies overlooking the street; roads winding in hairpin bends to mountain views of great beauty which can also be the backdrop to moments of acute misery; the striking profile of a censorious, perhaps malevolent housekeeper who knows too much about her employer.

The folds of vivid blood-red material in the opening shots made me fear that Almodóvar would slip into the melodramatic excess which is often his trademark, but in this film at least, his continual harnessing of striking images manages to stop short of hammy overkill.

My reservations are few. Antía’s abrupt change in behaviour at one point seems unconvincing, but this does not prevent the film from being very moving. The switch in casting from the young to the older Julieta and Antía is done quite cleverly, although it takes a few moments to adjust to the distraction this creates. Perhaps the understandably mournful lover Lorenzo is a little too long-suffering, but as other reviewers have noted, the men in this film are as ever mainly foils for the female characters who are Almodóvar’s main focus of interest.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 Stars

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