“Julieta”

Alice Munro ‘s understanding of the female psyche is put on-screen by the incomparable Spanish auteur, Pedro Almodovar. Almodovar is no stranger to the passions and tribulations of female survivors. His ” Woman On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown” ( 1988) and his ” All About My Mother” ( 1999) and his ” Talk To Her” (2002)  attest. Here, he uses three Munro short stories which follow a mother who loses her family.

“Silence”, ” Chance “, and  “Soon ” are the source material, but Almodovar’s sense of seeing the world makes the film his own. We begin with color. A close-up of scarlet-red silk breathing mimics a heart’s rise and fall. The camera backs away and a woman in a red duster and painted nails is reshelving books. She will no longer go to Portugal with her husband, Lorenzo,( Dario Grandinetti ) but will wait in Madrid and re-lease her old apartment. She hopes that her only daughter, who her husband does not know about will try to find her. Her second husband and she  have been planning the move to Portugal for a year, but a chance encounter on the street with Beatrix, (Michelle Jenner ) who used to be her daughter’s best friend gives her hope for seeing her lost Antia.

The dialogue is brusque and mysterious. Lorenzo is alarmed, but understanding.” I knew there was something important in your life that you never told me. I’ve respected that.” Julieta replies with a strong, ” Keep respecting it.”  Paradoxically, he stalks her, yet gives her space.

We next see Julieta writing a confessional letter to Antia. Viewers are entranced with Julieta’s ” Where do I begin… ! ” I first met your father twenty-five years ago on a train. The mysteries of her life are unrolled slowly. Two actresses beautifully portray the young Julieta (Adriana Ugarte) and the older Julieta ( Emma Suarez). The switch from young Julieta to middle-aged Julieta is done magically.  Her head is bath towel covered when Antia and Bea aid the depressed Julieta from her bath, and voila.

Julieta’s initial depression stems from her first husband, Xoan’s violent death. Daniel Grao plays this part with aplomb. His backstory is melodramatic. His first wife was in a coma for five years, but still living when Julieta became pregnant with Antia in their chance train encounter. A stag and a suicide heat things up, symbolically.

Julieta appears months later at Xoan’s seaside cottage. It happens to be the day of his wife’s funeral. The housekeeper, Maria, ( Rossy de  Palma) lets her know that he is being comforted by Ava, his dead wife’s artist friend. Ava ( Inma Cuesta) creates red male figures with prominent phalluses.

Infidelity is a theme running throughout the film. Julieta’s father has a mistress, and her own mother is bedridden. When Xoan and Julieta argue and Xoan is killed in twenty-five foot waves, the now thirteen- year-old Antia is at camp. His body is not in tact, but Julieta identifies him by his arm tattoo, a red heart with A & J inscribed within. Could it be for Antia & Julieta? Or does it include Ava and first wife Ana, too ?  It is Ava and Julieta that disperse Xoan’s ashes. The young Antia is protected at great cost.

Julieta’s silence contributes to  her now eighteen-year-old daughter rebelling by joining a spiritual commune. She disappears for thirteen years. Antia’s choice of a path which does not include her mother is devastating. Almodovar’ s camera records birthday cards sent unsigned, cakes throw in the trash, and every item relating to her daughter destroyed. Forsaken images of Julieta sitting on park benches, roaming Madrid streets and staring at young people playing say much about estranged mother/ daughter relationships. The grief of its loss is obsessive and palpable. Alberto Iglesias’ score keeps mystery alive.

In the end, there is another drowning and the promise of a reunion brought together by mother love. There is but a hint of  Almodovar’s humor in this film: I miss it.  The vengefulness of a teenage girl is mean and hard. This is a lonely homage to how alone we are. It is quite a tour de force.  For lit majors, it also pays homage to the Canadian writer, Alice Munro. Kudos to all. Female emotional depth is here.