Director Pedro Almodóvar is not up to his reputation for making unusual films with “Julieta,” which amounts to a soap opera with a mother-daughter theme. The story and the acting hold our attention, but the style and substance look as if they could come from any more conventional director.
“Julieta,” which was shown at the 2016 New York Film Festival and is now in commercial release, is expertly played later in life by Emma Suárez and younger in life by Adriana Ugarte. The film, which tells a story that unravels over about a 30-year period, is adapted from three short stories by Canadian writer Alice Munro.
Basically this is a tale of mother-daughter estrangement, with other characters woven into the narrative. The director jumbles events, which adds a note of mystery to be resolved, but at the core is the disappearance of Julieta’s daughter, leaving her mother bereft and with an obsession that takes over her life in the effort to learn what happened to the young girl when she was a teenager and to find her.
There is a major tragedy in Julieta’s life when her fisherman husband Xoan (Daniel Grao) is caught in a storm and dies. Julieta has to cope with her loss, and so does her daughter Anita (played at different ages by Priscilla Delgado and Blanca Pares). After Anita goes off to a retreat with a girlhood friend, she breaks off contact with her mother, who is aghast and finds that incomprehensible. What didn’t she understand about Anita that would lead to such a break? Under whose influence has Anita fallen to want to separate from her and not even contact her?
As in most soap operas so much is happening, and with Julieta there are her involvements with men, relations with a best woman friend and the shocks that life deals—all permeating the overall plot. Audience emotions are tugged at, a feat at which the director excels, although one is always looking for more in an Almodóver film. Yes, there are sprinklings of his visual ideas here and there, but “Julieta” is hardly one of his films to be best remembered.
Still, there is plenty to engage us along the way. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Reviewed December 21, 2016.