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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

NYFF Review: Pedro Almodóvar's JULIETA Tells a Heartbreaking Yet Beautiful Story of a Mother and Daughter

Director Pedro Almodóvar does not get enough credit for bringing us some of the most interesting, full, and compelling women characters on the big screen. They're stars of their own narratives, beautiful, thrilling, and often heartbreaking reflections. But where Almodóvar especially soars is his examination of the mother and daughter relationship. He doesn't just present a mother and daughter; he brings us in their lives, shatters them, and bonds them eternally through a single connected moment they both share. And JULIETA is no exception.

A sweeping yet intimate drama tracing the devastating estrangement of the title character (played first by Adriana Ugarte and in later years by Emma Suárez) from her daughter (Blanca Parés then Priscilla Delgado), JULIETA, which was shown at the New York Film Festival, follows a woman through love, loss and longing over nearly 30 years. When we first meet Julieta, she's a free-spirited schoolteacher in Spain, whose job has run its course. As she drifts to her next stage in life, she meets Xoan (Daniel Grao) on a train, who would become her greatest love in old Hollywood romantic flair. And soon she's pregnant with their daughter Antía (Priscilla Delgado, then Blanca Parés). Brimming with happiness with her new family, Julieta's world comes to a crippling halt when Xoan unexpectedly dies, leaving her to raise a daughter she soon realizes she barely knows while she at the same time struggles to reclaim a new lease on life.

Spending years in an emotionally comatose state following the tragedy, Julieta doesn't recognize how much time has passed until her daughter, who often ended up caring for her during that time, becomes an adult and isn't around anymore. By then, their relationship had already mysteriously severed, sending Julieta into a tailspin. When she begins to reconnect with what was once her normal existence years after that, even taking on a boyfriend (Lorenzo, charmingly played by Darío Grandinetti), a chance encounter with someone from her past compels her to write a letter to her now estranged daughter, telling her all the things for which she never found the words in earlier years. Thus sets up the foundation of JULIETA.

Once again, Almodóvar unlocks layers of unspoken narrative between a mother and daughter, like a mesmerizing kaleidoscope. While Antía's story isn't revealed until the third act, we as the audience see what Julieta isn't able to see until she comes into the realization late in her reflection.
And through Suárez's narration as she relives genuine happiness, followed by overwhelming despair and later regret, we too experience each emotion. Flashback scenes peaking into Julieta's close relationship with her own mother (played by Susi Sánchez), so simply stated and yet still elegant, further illuminate the profundity of Julieta's search to reconnect with her own daughter.

JULIETA is also proof that you can in fact tell a narrative that spans decades in under two hours. Despite its shorter length, the film never feels unfulfilled or abbreviated. Its terrific performances, beautiful narrative, and haunting score (punctuated by traces of Almodóvar's trademark dark humor) are so immersive that decades of life go by without it ever dragging.

Overall rating: A (***** out of *****)


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