Cannes 2016: Pedro Almodóvar returns to form with a sumptuous melodrama
After the frisky, inconsequential I’m So Excited!, Pedro Almodóvar returns to what he does best – weaving complex tales around the ties that bind mothers and daughters. Julieta is very much of a piece with All About My Mother and Volver but there is a mellow, mournful quality to this melodrama, as death and disappointment stalk the lives of his characters.
Originally intended as Almodóvar’s first English-language drama, Julieta is adapted from a trio of stories in the Alice Munro collection Runaway, with the location changed to Madrid. Brokenhearted Julieta (Emma Suárez) is about to leave Spain for a new life in Portugal when a chance encounter brings her news of the daughter she hasn’t seen in over 12 years. A spark of hope is reignited and she decides to stay and write a memoir of what happened years before, beginning in 1989 when young teacher Julieta (Adriana Ugarte) meets handsome Galician fisherman Xoan (Daniel Grao) on a train. She becomes Xoan’s second wife, watched over by disapproving Mrs Danvers-style housekeeper Marian (Rossy de Palma). Happiness is hers for the taking but there are all kinds of omens and warnings that it is unlikely to last.
Julieta has all the signature touches we have come to expect from Almodóvar, including a dazzling colour palette rich in blood reds and shimmering azure, and a seductive score reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock regular Bernard Herrmann. The director doffs his cap to Patricia Highsmith, Greek tragedy and the heightened artificiality of late Hitchcock thrillers like Marnie. Fans will be able to spot the references and will savour the rich stew of lost opportunities, misunderstandings, rash judgements and crippling regrets.
Julieta has a commendably modest running time but is heavy with plot and exposition, meaning not everything has room to breathe. It is a rare modern film that leaves you wanting more, and one that will almost certainly repay a second viewing.
Screening as part of Cannes 2016. General release from Fri 26 Aug.