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Julieta [2016] : The silence of guilt

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Pedro Almodóvar’s Julieta is about guilt, about love, about loss and everything that happens when things are lost in absolutely terrible moments of silence. Being a director who rightfully focuses on visual appeal, Almodovar’s film uses past and present with shades of blue and red. With both the colors matching the incredibly stunning costume design and grandeur production design which insinuate long-used Almodovar elements of death, the nature of its cause and the aftermath. Much like Volver, in Julieta too Almodóvar’s main focus in again on the entirely debatable and emotionally draining relationship between a mother and a daughter and what makes the relationship take a wrong turn on the road to being guilt-free.

Based on three short stories by Alice Munro, Almodóvar new film is about Julieta. A middle-aged woman living in Madrid who is about to move to Portugal with her boyfriend. That is until she encounters her daughter’s childhood friend on the street. Which not only shatters her plans but are pieces which form a blurred ambiguity in our minds. Why is she suddenly changing her plans of not going to Portugal? Why is she concerned about how young or old her books make her feel? and above all, What went wrong between her and the daughter in question? Why haven’t they been in touch for so long? Before we start questioning more, Almodovar throws us into the world full of memories. Through his protagonist, he anchors a story down amnesia lane. And like any other memory, Julieta’s memories are full of little happy moments, some passionate ones and moments of incredible guilt and sadness that form a pathos for a beautiful story about mothers and daughters.

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Julieta is a mysterious film. Not in the typical dramatic and suspense way but it is drenched in constant feeling of ‘not knowing something.’ While the suspense seeking audiences will be tired by the constant change from past to present as a weary old mother walks down streets reminiscing and writing her life story on a piece of white paper, fans of visual art would sit back and fathom all the ambiguity that Almodovar throws their way. The mystery here, however, is unlike his previous works. There is nothing to be peeled off here, except the deep emotional senses that have been thrown into a big black pit while conventional, superficial layers of ‘moving-on’ are paraded all over it.

There are visible references to old Hitchcock films. While we see the young version of Julieta teaching greek tragedy about love, lust, and the sea. The scenes that follow have a visual resemblance to it. However, there are some strange narrative choices. Where the instant change in narrative almost makes it feels like magic realism while it isn’t exactly that. New viewers might find Almodovar’s narrative choices quite absurd and off-putting. For people who are familiar with them might have a similar reaction too. That aside, the film is a  visually draining experience. Especially 2/3rd into the film, we have a beautiful scene as we see the old Julieta taking it up from the old Julieta and as we are aware of how beautiful Almodovar makes everything look, it still astonishes.

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Julieta is beautifully sad. It’s one of those viewing experiences that overwhelms you with how well it knows what it is dealing with and still surprises you on each step. With incredible on-screen presence by the beautiful Adriana Ugarte and an absolutely nerve-racking performance by Emma Suárez, Julieta is one of those women-centric melodramas that’s worth seeking out.

★★★1/2

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