Pedro Almodovar, director & script based on short stories by Alice Munro from her book Runaway
Starring: Emma Suarez (Julieta), Adriana Ugarte (Julieta when she’s young), Daniel Grao (Xoan), Inma Cuesta (Ava), Michelle Jenner (Beatriz), Rossy de Palma (Marian), Dario Grandinetti (Lorenzo), Bianca Pares (Antia at 18), Priscilla Delgado (Antia as an adolescent)
There was a time when a new film by the brilliantly subversive gay Spanish director Pedro Almodovar was a big event. That makes the news this week especially bleak. With Julieta, Almodovar’s 20th feature just opening in North America, it has to be devastating for the iconic director and his distributors to deal with the fact that the Oscar foreign film selectors have not included his film in the final nine candidates for the award. This is Almodovar after all, the winner of the best foreign film Oscar for All About My Mother (1999) and recipient of the best screenplay Academy Award for Talk to Her (2002). You have to ask: what happened?
In some ways, Julieta is a return to form for the director after the disastrous over-the-top comedy I’m so excited (2013). Once again, he’s in familiar territory, offering up a well paced melodrama with an abundance of women as the leading actors. For Canadians and lovers of literature, Almodovar’s choice for his source material is exemplary: it’s Alice Munro, with short stories from her book Runaway.
The story is a strong but very complicated one. It involves the life of Julieta as a school teacher, lover, wife and mother over nearly 30 years. The young romantic Julieta leaves the city to be with Xoan, a fisherman, with whom she has a daughter, Antia. Her relationships with those two are passionate but disastrous. Julieta, whose story is told in flashbacks, can never let go of her memories of the fleeting great times she had with them—not even with Lorenzo, her lover in Madrid, who is endlessly supportive of her. The film leaves Julieta on the verge of embarking on a new chapter, hopefully with Lorenzo and a grown-up Antia as part of that story.
If this all sounds melodramatic, it is. Julieta has not excited audiences or European critics, who have nonetheless given the film respectful but not rhapsodic reviews. The problem is that Almodovar used to employ melodrama for his own ends. He was able to create darkly sardonic scenarios that critiqued Spain’s macho, extremely hierarchal society while also keeping our interest in the sometimes sordid but always compelling lives of the women who populated his films. His films were very funny and often richly emotional.
Julieta lacks the emotion, humour and, most importantly, the satire of earlier Almodovar. It’s still a richly detailed work, with excellent performances. It’s a fine film but it’s also Almodovar lite. Which is why there will be no Oscars for this baby.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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