“Julieta” – “A family is a mystery.” – Sharon Olds

The latest film from acclaimed director Pedro Almodovar offers up a contemporary mystery, although “Julieta” is not a whodunit.  There are no criminal acts or terribly nefarious moves found anywhere within its 99-minute runtime.  The picture, instead, examines a portrait of a family.  A family in crisis, and the mystery of how it fell apart, a “howdunit”, if you will.

Almodovar exercises his will by crafting the picture on two different timelines, featuring Julieta in her mid 20s during the 1980s and in her 50s in present day.  In 2017, this educated cosmopolite (Emma Suarez) plans on leaving Madrid with her long time beau, Lorenzo (Dario Grandinetti).  With her packing nearly finished and thoughts of a new life in her head, she randomly bumps into a woman from her past on a busy sidewalk at midday.   Suddenly, memories from a past life prevent her from advancing to the aforementioned next one, and Julieta decides to remain in Madrid in the last possible moments before her planned, permanent getaway.

Heartbroken and left in the lurch, Lorenzo accepts the bad news like a grownup, but tells her, “I always knew there was something more important in your life that you never shared with me.”

Julieta then proceeds to share with the audience.

Almodovar efficaciously establishes our curiosity around Julieta’s peculiar behavior and rewinds his cinematic clock 30 years to help illuminate the specific source of her sudden cold feet, with Adriana Ugarte portraying a younger Julieta.  Ugarte carries an uncanny likeness to Suarez, which makes one seriously wonder if Emma is playing Julieta in both time periods, as their performances (and physical appearances) feel perfectly in synch with the character.

We see Julieta build a family with a supportive, kind soul, Xoan (Daniel Grao), but not every marriage falls perfectly into place, and in this case, legitimate disagreements can morph into transforming events.

On the other hand, the larger conflict that Julieta faces is not due to crystal clear, decisive differences, but because of a cryptic dispute that truly is invisible to the naked eye and indistinguishable to every other organ that possesses the ability to sense.  Julieta may have taken a sudden, onetime misstep or perhaps constantly applied a slight offense and repeated it for a series of years, and over time, resentment slowly and unknowingly built.  Quite frankly, the reasons are unknown to Julieta, and when a struggle arises without warning or explanation, it can be a source of immense doubt and emotional turmoil.

As a result of this singular divide, Julieta might as well be synonymous with pathos, but Almodovar also introduces a nonfamily-related, tragic event and her parents’ relationship as contributing factors to her personal despair.   They present an additional sense of guilt and some parental dysfunction which help fuel her current gloom, but they do not (appear to) completely gel with the story, and their connections feel deliberately subtle.

They do provide some additional cement to the foundation of the character, a woman tied to the past through a painful episode in which she still wonders what could have possibly been her own contribution.  Julieta may get her answer, but until then, her family – like many, many others – is a mystery.

Image credits: Warner Bros.

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