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.