We stereotypically think of Spaniards as
the hot-blooded types and Canadians as being rather unassuming and vanilla, but
fishing is important to both nations. That might not sound like much of a
shared bond, but it allows Pedro Almodóvar to transpose Alice Munro’s three
interconnected short stories “Chance,” “Soon,” and “Silence” from Canada to
Spain. In the process, he gives the Sirkian stories a Hitchcockian tinge, not
unlike his 2011 film The Skin I Live In,
in which the story collection Runaway
briefly appears, Easter Egg-like. Not merely poised the verge of a nervous
breakdown, the title character will often teeter over the brink in Almodóvar’s Julieta (trailer here), which screens
during the 54th New York Film Festival.
Julieta Arcos’s flashbacks will start when
she chances across a friend of her long lost grown daughter Antía, who
off-handedly mentions running into the missing woman on the streets of Madrid.
Just when Arcos had agreed to leave town with her eternally patient gentleman
friend, she finds reason to stay and carry on her fruitless search. With the
help of a little wine, Arcos drifts back to when she first met Antía’s father Xoan
as a fellow passenger on a romantic but somewhat tragic sleeper train.
Obviously, there were sparks, but Xoan’s
comatose first wife made long-term commitment rather awkward. Nonetheless, Arcos
will eventually seek out the commercial fisherman, fatefully arriving a day
after the inconvenient spouse’s funeral. The heat is still there, but Julieta
will also meet Ava, Xoan’s platonic best friend, except possibly with benefits.
Lingering questions regarding their relationship will lead to tragedy, which in
turn contributes to Antía’s extreme decision to sever all ties to her mother.
Although not a thriller per se, Almodóvar
deliberately emphasizes all the mysterious elements, like the deliberately
missing person, an unfortunate death on the tracks, and all the romantically
noir elements of strangers meeting on a train. Even Adriana Ugarte hairstyle as
the young commuting Juliet looks inspired by Melanie Griffith in Body Double. Clearly composer Alberto
Iglesias got the memo, because he definitely tries to channel Bernard Hermann.
Frankly, the richness and sure-handedness
of Almodóvar’s visual style is just of pleasure to behold. He and cinematographer
Jean-Claude Larrieu give the film a vibrant color-noir look, in the tradition
of Marnie. Yet, the grounded credibility
of the linked narrative makes the third story alienation quite disturbing.
As the younger Julieta, Ugarte rocks her
1980s dew and generally dominates the screen with a dangerous mix of seductiveness
and naivety. As the older Arcos, Emma Suárez is vividly and viscerally
guilt-ridden and neurotic, but also rather stately and distinguished. Yet, both
will implode quite spectacularly, as befits Almodóvarian heroines.
Despite its “women’s fiction” source material, Julieta is definitely more closely akin
to Almodóvar’s Skin and Broken Embraces. Yet of the three said
films, this is arguably the most accomplished. Darkly glossy, Julieta should well satisfy Almodóvar’s
admirers and serve as an effective introductive to his themes and motifs for
new viewers. Highly recommended, Julieta screens
again tomorrow night (10/16) during the 2016 NYFF, with a return trip already
booked for late December.
Labels: NYFF '16, Pedro Almodovar, Spanish Cinema