In his latest picture Julieta, Pedro Almodóvar weaves a compelling, richly textured tale from three stories by Alice Munro, published first in The New Yorker and then in her book Runaway (2004). Almodóvar (the Spanish writer/director of flamboyant, vibrantly colored comedies and melodramas) and Munro (the Canadian author of reserved, minimalist, carefully constructed short stories) might seem like an odd match. But their distinct sensibilities combine wonderfully in this movie, which ranks among the filmmaker’s best work, All About My Mother (1999), Talk to Her (2002), and Volver (2006).
Emma Suárez stars as the titular character, a middle-aged woman living in Madrid with her lover Lorenzo (Darío Grandinetti). After a chance encounter with a young woman from her past, Julieta begins to urgently recall and write down key events from her life that she’s kept secret from most everyone. Adriana Ugarte plays the younger Julieta in the flashback story that ensues. The movie unfolds like an engrossing mystery—and the less known about it beforehand, the better—but the twists and turns come less through Hitchcockian machinations and more by way of intense emotional states and the lasting choices made within them. Through the layered narrative structure, Almodóvar explores many of his signature themes— family and individual identity, sexual desire and passion for life, and the complex inner lives of women.
My only complaint about Julieta is that I wish it were longer. For most of the tight ninety-six minute running time, Almodóvar paces the story beautifully. He knows when to slow down and linger on details and when to jump ahead, skipping over weeks/months/years. However, there are a couple of important moments where I felt we needed a little more time in order to better understand certain decisions Julieta makes. Perhaps, though, part of this film’s point is that an individual’s past is not a puzzle we (or they) can solve, and no one can ever fully understand what happens inside another person’s mind—even a character we grow to empathize with as strongly as we do Julieta.