Pedro Almodovar’s Julieta is a tricky movie for me to review. On one hand, it’s Almodovar, one of our most imaginative and entertaining filmmakers. Even minor Almodovar is better than most cinema on its best days. But — and it pains me to say it — Julieta is, unfortunately, minor Almodovar.
As a follow-up to the playful, flippant and equally minor I’m So Excited (2013), Julieta is a return to more familiar ground, a story of a woman, told through flashbacks and filled with welcome melodrama. And despite all of this, the movie still lacks a certain verve. Julieta never feels as if it has much point, which feels almost heretical to say about Almodovar, precisely because what make his films so fun and entertaining is their total lack of point. The idea here is to escape into the world of Almodovar, into his twists and turns and dramas. And while I stayed engaged with Julieta, for the first time, I was left with an Almodovar film that feels flimsy and a bit needless.
As I mentioned, Julieta is very much in the vein of classic Almodovar. The plot is a complex affair. After running into an old acquaintance on the street, Julieta (Emma Suarez) learns that her estranged daughter Antia is living in Switzerland. Canceling her plans of moving away with her significant other (Dario Grandinetti), Julieta instead moves back to her old apartment building and begins reflecting on her life, jotting down her own life story to explain her motives for straining her relationship with Antia.
Here, the bulk of the film falls into flashback as we follow a younger Julieta (Adriana Ugarte), starting with her meeting of Antia’s father Xoan (Daniel Grao) on an overnight train trip and the death of a stranger the same night. The film unfolds from here, documenting Julieta and Xoan’s reunion later on and the start of their relationship and the birth of Antia, gradually twisting and turning into more human dramas that I’ll leave out for the sake of spoilers. Regardless, it is an Almodovar film and as such, a lot happens — the audience is simply along for the ride.
As the film progressed, I found myself engaged. It’s not too difficult since Almodovar’s mastery of suspense — even for a film built on little more than human failings and misunderstandings — is top-notch. And perhaps that’s the problem, because there’s nothing really wrong with Julieta. The cast is great, the imagery is colorful, the story is welcomely mature. But the film is structured almost like a thriller, as it peels back the layers of its narrative and slowly unravels question after question. Unfortunately, they were never questions I was asking, and the big moment I was waiting for to tie everything together never quite came. There’s a sense that some great payoff, some great reveal is coming, and it never happens. This isn’t to fault the ending, which is sweet and melancholy, but it doesn’t fit the tone of the film and lends itself to a feeling of discombobulation that keeps the film from greatness. Rated R for some sexuality/nudity.
Now Playing at Grail Moviehouse.