Juliet is in deep sleep, pretending to lie dead as Romeo approaches. He doesn’t realise she’s alive and, in mourning, takes his own life. The lack of a letter and Juliet’s enforced silence results in the avoidable death of both titular characters in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In Pedro Almodóvar’s vivid Spanish tale, Julieta, a letter revealing the truth of a forgotten history, is what may save the love between a mother and her only daughter.
Julieta (Emma Suárez) is packing for Portugal. Her partner, Lorenzo (Darío Grandinetti), has been preparing this for years. Afterwards, Julieta has a brief walk and bumps into Bea (Michelle Jenner), a friend of her daughter, Antía. Bea has seen Antía recently. She has children and seems happy. This shakes Julieta’s world and, ruffling through her trash, she pulls out an envelope. Her plans with Lorenzo are cancelled and she moves into an apartment she once knew, piecing together her life and writing a long letter to her daughter. Antía has been missing for over a decade and Julieta has kept this from Lorenzo. In fact, they’ve all been keeping secrets from each other. Guilt and regret plague their minds and, through flashbacks (with Adriana Ugarte portraying the young Julieta), we slowly realise that these silences have shattered this particular group of relatives and lovers.
Julieta is Almodóvar back on form after his last effort (the flippant comedy I’m So Excited). It comfortably sits alongside Talk To Her, Bad Education and All About My Mother, where relationships, family and maternal struggles are as fearsome and tense as a Hitchcock thriller. In Julieta, Alberto Iglesias’s score oozes Bernard Herrman’s heavy, string style, marking a parallel with Vertigo. Julieta is, understandably, obsessed with her daughter. Her reflective prose, narrating the memories, provides a longing that few can relate to. Yet, as the long history of Antía’s father and upbringing is unearthed, we connect to the raw passion, animalism and intensity of their family, mirrored in the stormy seas near where they live.
While the relationship at the core of Julieta is that of the mother and daughter, the supporting characters are exquisitely rendered and deeply memorable. From the Mrs Danvers (recalling Hitchcock’s Rebecca) house maid, Marianne (Rossy de Palma), to Julieta’s rugged lover Xoan (Daniel Grao). Each person is romantically portrayed, as if the sumptuous visual style of Almodóvar, replete with bold reds and deep blues against a clean, white backdrop, is the rose-tinted memory Julieta recalls.
There is no filmmaker with such a bold palette, and his stylish interiors are warm and inviting; the experience is an absolute joy to immerse yourself within. When a landscape lingers for the final shot, you catch yourself breathing it in, as if the cinema screen is a window out to the glorious vista beyond. Akin to a Lucian Freud portrait, the story is told in broad, thick brushstrokes. But Almodóvar’s technique includes detail in this portrait; through the bitter grief, heartache and loneliness of each key character, every subtle crease and wrinkle that rests upon an ageing face has profound meaning.
This was originally written for Culturefly in August 2016