Tropic Sprockets / Julieta

By Ian Brockway

In Pedro Almodovar’s latest, existentialism pervades all. “Julieta” is as eye popping and as colorful as the director’s early works, and his devotees will be treated to the trademark pathos and drama. Here the auteur is pensive and concise with a new openness in tributing the directors of the past from the great Luis Bunuel to Alfred Hitchcock. For source material Almodovar uses the author Alice Munro.

Literature teacher Julieta (Emma Suárez) is walking in Madrid. Abruptly she bumps into her daughter’s friend, Beatriz (Michelle Jenner) who tells her she has heard that her daughter Antia is now married with three children. This shocks Julieta who has not seen Antia in years.

She resolves to break off with her boyfriend Lorenzo (Dario Grandinetti) and write Antia a letter. In the letter, Julieta professes guilt. As a young woman on a train, portrayed by the stunning actress Adriana Ugarte, she meets a melancholic man (Tomas de Estal) who disappears from the car and commits suicide. Julieta is stunned.

On the train, she also meets the rugged Xoan, (Daniel Grao) a fisherman. The two start a highly charged relationship and they have a daughter. Julieta is haunted by her enigmatic daughter as well as the bizarre death of the man on the train, who she knew only briefly.

Feelings of loneliness and loss begin to overwhelm her, coupled with the eerie concept that Julieta may be trapped in a version of Homer’s Odyssey that she cannot control nor fully understand. Throughout the film, there is repeated nautical imagery and the sea is often threatening. Nature is out to get Julieta and she becomes passive.

Hitchcock is here too as well as Homer. Julieta like the detective in “Vertigo” is obsessed with the past and wants to bring back her older Antia (Blanca Parés). And let us not forget the double casting of Bunuel in  “That Obscure Object of Desire.”  Julieta is shown through the eyes of two actors Suárez and Ugarte and both are excellent.

All of Almodovar’s trademarks are in force: sharp editing, vibrational color and sumptuous imagery that at times reach the heights of color field or abstract painting.  What is new in “Julieta” are the wistful and  indifferent rhythms, no less dramatic. With a slow and building realization, Julieta realizes she is trapped, a 21st century siren caught in a web of memories and consequences that she cannot accept.

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