Thursday, December 22, 2016

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

Year: 2016
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Cast: Adriana Ugarte, Emma Suárez, Rossy de Palma
Run Time: 1 hour 39 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Over the course of the past year, we’ve had a lot of Pedro Almodóvar titles crop up on the pages of Popcorn Culture. Although the man has swiftly risen to prominence as one of my all-time favorite directors, all of these reviews have been mini-reviews, for a variety of reasons. First, I’ve been so busy lately that I’ve had to implement way more truncated reviews for non-current, non-special feature titles. Second, I’m much less experienced in discussing drama and comedy, so sometimes I have less to say and I’m unable to produce one of my typical, gargantuan reviews.

But guys. Things are different now. Pedro Almodóvar has a new movie in theaters as we speak. And I’m ready for it.

I’m so excited! I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

That film is Julieta, loosely adapted from the sort stores “Chance,” “Soon,” and “Silence” by Canadian author Alice Munro. After a casual encounter with Beatriz (Michelle Jenner), an old friend of her daughter’s, Julieta (Emma Suárez) breaks up with her boyfriend Lorenzo (Darío Grandinetti of Talk to Her) and cancels her move to Portugal, electing to stay in Madrid and mull over the reasons why her daughter Antía (Jimena Solano as a baby, Priscilla Delgado as an adolescent, and Blanca Parés as a teenager) vanished from her life after her 18th birthday. She sits down and writes Antía a letter, explaining her story:

At 25, young teacher Julieta (Adriana Ugarte) meets the fisherman Xoan (Daniel Grao) on a train, an event that changes her life completely, giving her a baby and a lifetime of heartbreak.

I could keep going, but why spoil the antics of two ridiculously sexy Spaniards?

By his own admission, Julieta is Almodóvar’s most straightforward drama. It lacks the heightened stakes, dazzling queerness, and zany comedy (the Oscar-nominated Volver literally has fart jokes) that mark the bulk of his work, but it’s still unmistakably him. An entry in that favorite genre of his, “women’s drama,” it’s a story about loss, lust for life, and family secrets that cause schisms between generations, some of his most common subjects, at least in his more highbrow, post-80’s works. 

And there’s absolutely no way he could scrub every trace of comedy from Julieta. He couldn’t resist a slow motion shot of a purse flying into an old lady’s face (he has the sense of humor of a 12-year-old and I love him for that), and he gives one of his best comic roles to frequent muse Rossy de Palma (of Law of Desire, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, Kika, and Flower of My Secret).

De Palma is on hand for a brief but unforgettable turn as the Mrs. Danvers-esque Marian, Xoan’s spinster housekeeper. She’s a deliciously mean, blunt woman who de Palma plays with beautiful restraint, channeling a series of razor-sharp lines like a medium of divine comedy. She can’t have been in the film for longer than ten minutes, but she leaves a meteoric impression. It’s the most Almodóvar has ever asked of her, and she nails it.

And it’s not like the rest of the cast it full of slouches, it’s just that everyone else is attuned to the drama side of things, which they admittedly pull off well. This entire movie is held together by the twin performances of Adriana Ugarte and Emma Suárez, two spectacularly gorgeous, inviting screen presences who both – as first-time Almodóvar ladies – immediately earn their way into his pantheon of female powerhouse actresses, to rub shoulders with the likes of Penélope Cruz, Cecelia Roth, and the inimitable Carmen Maura.

All while rocking incredible hair, through the ages.

Once again, Almodóvar has managed to capture the darkest patches of the human experience and contort them into beautiful, sunny cinema. While the story might seem simple, almost familiar (at its core, it’s an uncomplicated exploration of why people cut each other out of their lives, and that patterns that people follow across generations), he breathes life into it with his typical toolkit of bold color, elegant framing, and visual metaphor. Julieta is jam-packed with thoughts and ideas bursting around the edges of the frame, whether they’re more obvious metaphors like a lonely caribou traipsing through the snow or a broken clock tower (they make sense in context, but I don’t want to give the whole damn thing away) or subtle touches that might take two or three viewings to even register.

Julieta isn’t as transgressive as Almodóvar’s best work and it’s a bit too similar to his earlier Oscarbait to be more than a nice footnote on an illustrious career, but it’s like settling into a warm bath of cinematic style. You get whisked away into the story, feel the ups and downs, and you’re not emotionally gutted when the credits roll. It’s a supremely pleasant movie, and he might not be operating at his peak, but his lows still reach a dizzy, Himalayan height.

TL;DR: Julieta is a typically delightful film for Almodóvar.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 864

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