JULI­ETA, drama, rated R, in Span­ish with sub­ti­tles, Vi­o­let Crown, 3.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - — Jonathan Richards

Pe­dro Almod­ó­var is one of those rare film­mak­ers for whom we should be grate­ful every time he steps be­hind the cam­era. He has set his own bar high as the di­rec­tor of All About My Mother, Women on the Verge of a Ner­vous Break­down, Talk to Her, and so many oth­ers. Like Woody Allen, he’s guilty of some lesser ef­forts ( Juli­eta is some­thing of a re­bound from his 2013 farce I’m So Ex­cited!), but his name above the ti­tle prom­ises rich­ness of vi­su­als and emo­tions, some­thing drenched in mood and color, and an in­trigu­ing plot. With Juli­eta, adapted from three short sto­ries by the No­bel Prize-win­ning writer Alice Munro, he’s a lit­tle less op­er­atic than he has been in the past, per­haps be­cause of the re­strain­ing in­flu­ence of the Cana­dian source ma­te­rial, but it’s all still there — the rich­ness, the deep sat­u­rat­ing hues, the star­tling images, the prob­ing in­sights into the fe­male psy­che.

Almod­ó­var had orig­i­nally in­tended to move Munro’s sto­ries only down be­low the bor­der to New York, and to shoot it in English, with Meryl Streep as the cen­tral char­ac­ter (it was to be called Si­lence ,a ti­tle now ap­pro­pri­ated by Martin Scors­ese). But as he worked on the screen­play, he be­gan to have doubts about whether his com­mand of the lan­guage was suf­fi­cient to the task, and even­tu­ally Juli­eta grav­i­tated to Madrid, in the di­rec­tor’s na­tive tongue, with two ac­tresses do­ing the work of the ti­tle char­ac­ter.

Those two ac­tresses are Adri­ana Ugarte as the twenty-some­thing Juli­eta and Emma Suárez as the char­ac­ter in mid­dle age. We meet the lat­ter first, as Juli­eta is plan­ning to leave Madrid and move to Por­tu­gal with her lover Lorenzo (Frank Lan­gella looka­like Dario Grandinetti, Talk to Her). But a chance en­counter on the street changes that plan.

The person she meets un­ex­pect­edly is Bea (Michelle Jen­ner), who was once the best friend of Juli­eta’s daugh­ter An­tía. Bea is now a Vogue edi­tor in New York, but on a shoot at Lake Como she ran into An­tía, whom she hadn’t seen since they were eigh­teen, with her three chil­dren. An­tía told Bea that her mother was still liv­ing in Madrid.

Juli­eta is shaken to her core, and we dis­cover that she too has not seen An­tía since then. She breaks off with Lorenzo with­out an ex­pla­na­tion and moves back to the apart­ment build­ing where she had lived when An­tía was grow­ing up, in the hope that if her daugh­ter were ever to try to get in touch with her, that is where she might look. There, she takes out a note­book and begins to write an ac­count to An­tía of the events that have shaped their lives.

This is where the du­al­ity of the char­ac­ter comes in, as we flash back through her writ­ing to the young Juli­eta on a train. She is read­ing a book (she’s a teacher of clas­sics) when an older man sits down and tries to strike up a con­ver­sa­tion. She blows him off, and re­treats to the din­ing car, where she meets the hand­some young Xoan (Daniel Grao), and sparks are struck. But so, soon after, is tragedy, and an un­shak­able bur­den of guilt.

The tran­si­tion from the older to the younger ac­tress is seam­less, their re­sem­blance is re­mark­able, and as the movie tran­si­tions back and forth in Juli­eta’s story, we feel the du­al­ity and the con­nect­ed­ness of youth to later life. Suárez still has a youth­ful beauty when we first meet her, and we have no trou­ble rec­og­niz­ing her in the young woman on the train, in a blue sweater and a spiky hairdo not un­like Almod­ó­var’s. Ugarte’s clas­sic looks are rem­i­nis­cent of Kim No­vak in Ver­tigo, and the theme of strangers on a train sug­gests a nod to­ward Hitch­cock, one of Almod­ó­var’s ac­knowl­edged cin­e­matic heroes. Juli­eta isn’t overtly a thriller, and yet there is a pal­pa­ble build­ing of sus­pense and ten­sion that fits the master’s mold.

Almod­ó­var takes us back and forth between the an­guished Juli­eta of midde age, des­per­ately hop­ing to be re­united with her van­ished daugh­ter, and the ori­gin story of meet­ing Xoan, fall­ing in love, cre­at­ing An­tía, and the trau­mas, losses, jeal­ousies, and over­whelm­ing guilt that fol­lowed. We dis­cover what hap­pened when An­tía dis­ap­peared from her mother’s life with­out a word, a chill­ing scene that is every par­ent’s night­mare.

The du­al­ity and con­ti­nu­ity between the young and the older Juli­eta sug­gests an echo of Almod­ó­var’s own tran­si­tion from the ec­static ex­u­ber­ance of his youth­ful movies to some­thing more thought­ful, but still drenched in color and im­agery, still full of pas­sion and hu­mor, and any­thing but sub­dued.

Du­al­ity of woman: Adri­ana Ugarte

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