Pedro Almodóvar is a legend of Spanish cinema and hell, an icon of cinema in general. Regarded as one of the finest filmmakers working today, it is always an event when he drops another film for our viewing pleasure. 2016 brought us a milestone in his career: his 20th feature film. Returning to drama and his so-called “cinema of women”, Julieta was highly anticipated. But it’s worth starting by saying that at the beginning of Julieta’s release week, Pedro found himself at the centre of a bit of a scandal…
Pedro’s name, along with his brother’s, were listed in the leak of the Panama Papers from the database of the offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca; their names found on the incorporation documents of a company based in the British Virgin Isles between ’91 and ’94. In a nutshell, this wasn’t ideal for his reputation. Pedro’s brother released a statement declaring himself responsible for all financial matters, but Pedro tried to take full responsibility too. Potentially as a result of all this trouble, Julieta’s box office takings in Spain suffered massively and the film reportedly had the worst opening of an Almodóvar film in 20 years. It’s a prime example of a film being overshadowed and buried by a scandal. With that in mind, is it any good?
Following his rather dreadful "I’m So Excited" from 2013, anything would look better in comparison. But on its own merits, or lack of, Julieta is rather underwhelming. It isn’t the full-on return to form we wanted. But it’s not awful.
The film follows the stylish and middle-aged Julieta. Our story begins in the present day – our titular heroine seems content in her life, but could just be lost and broken under her façade. Maybe as she leaves Spain for a new life with her new partner, she will rediscover who she is? But a chance meeting in the street throws her life into disarray. We discover that Julieta has an estranged daughter, Antía, whom she hasn’t seen in decades. She subsequently discovers news that Antía is still alive, and has three children; and thus, Julieta learns that she is a grandmother. As Julieta tries to find her daughter, maybe she’ll find herself too…An interesting premise, and a promising one – Almodóvar has always crafted incredible work around that great mystery: women. But something about Julieta just reeks of missed opportunity.
Even with Almodóvar behind the camera, there is no elevating this narrative above “soap opera”. The familiarity of the plot, and the melodramatic nature of it, is uncomfortable and that is the film’s downfall. The film is emotionally distant and soulless, making the thin characters difficult to relate to or feel anything for. It’s not a bad film and nothing about it is noticeably wrong on the surface – it’s just the lack of any feeling whatsoever as the credits roll that makes you realise you just empty the film was. Maybe this was intentional, for some people do say “what is life but empty and meaningless existence”? But something about this film’s delivery just felt uncomfortable.
It’s not all bad; the visuals are spectacular and the acting is often excellent in its natural and ‘real’ feel – with the exception of Almodóvar regular Rossy De Palma’s over the top maid. Emma Suárez is brilliant as the older Julieta while Adriana Ugarte kills it as her beautiful younger self. But despite solid performances, this dark and personal tale should’ve had a far stronger and powerful impact on the viewer – instead, it kept the viewer at a distance and made the film’s strong points feel totally inconsequential.
Maybe I’m being a little harsh. Julieta is by no means a bad film. As I said, it’s certainly a hell of a lot better than his previous film. But this is an example of knowing what someone’s capable of, and how better they can be. It’s an underwhelming piece in Almodóvar’s filmography, but is certainly not the worst thing he’s ever done.
Julieta feels like a bit of a missed opportunity, but it’s certainly back on the right track after Almodóvar’s previous film. 3/5
Julieta at CeX
Get your daily CeX at