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ALMODÓVAR’S ‘JULIETA’: A HAUNTING TALE

It’s not Pedro Almodóvar’s fault that he’s set his own bar so high. He first gained attention as the bad boy of Spanish cinema, then matured with superb, deeply-felt films like All About My Mother and Volver. Julieta may not be one of his best efforts but it is still quite good, and that’s no insult. (Answering a letter from a colleague who criticized one of his later works, Ernst Lubitsch pointed out that a mediocre talent always lives up to his potential.)

Here, Almodóvar has woven together three short stories by Alice Munro and reset them in Madrid. The leading character is a sophisticated, intelligent woman (Emma Suárez) who suddenly puts her life on hold. A chance meeting upsets her plans and causes her to write a long letter to her daughter to explain things she never had a chance to tell her before. This leads into a lengthy flashback where we meet the same woman, much younger (played by a different actress, Adriana Ugarte) and her experiences when she encounters a man on a fateful train ride who later becomes her husband.

The film deals, in part, with secrets and how they can reverberate over the years, causing pain to the person keeping them as well as the one from whom they have been hidden.

As usual, Almodóvar takes some of his cues from vintage Hollywood melodramas and injects small moments of humor along the way. He casts his film with a keen eye: both women who play Julieta are beautiful and compelling.

I’m told that some people have come away disappointed because Julieta doesn’t build to a crescendo or offer dramatic fireworks. But when a movie grabs you from the first scene and never loosens its grip, it’s the work of a master storyteller. Julieta is a haunting story that’s well worth seeing.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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