Friday, August 26, 2016

Julieta - a sumptuous story of separation (QFT until 8 September)

I’m generally suspicious about the use of narration or an enormous flashback after a quick introduction in a film or play. While it’s forgivable in a movie as good as The Princess Bride, it often seems to cover up weaknesses in the plot. (And don’t get me started on wordy captions – the Star Wars opening crawler – that provide the context the screenwriter and director couldn’t fit into the action.)

Yet the extended flashback device works well for Pedro Almodóvar’s new film Julieta. The titular author (played by Emma Suárez) bumps into a younger acquaintance on a street in Madrid and discovers that her estranged daughter Antía is alive and has a family. This revelation leads Julieta to pull the eject handle on plans to relocate to Portugal with her partner and instead she moves back to her old apartment block and starts writing up her side of the story in a long letter to her daughter.

And so we go back to key moments and meet key people in her life. There’s death and life as the younger Julieta (Adriana Ugarte) meets two men on an overnight train journey. A menacing housekeeper (played brilliantly by Almodóvar regular Rossy de Palma) interferes with the truth while Julieta’s beau Xoan (Daniel Grao) is less than candid about his relationship with sculptor Ava. Though Julieta too knows about unconventional couplings when she makes a rare visit to see her parents from whom she’s practically estranged.

Ava’s bronze and terracotta statues are designed to be heavy, resilient against the wind. Julieta needs the same inner strength to stand up to the gales of life, absence and death that blow against her as her daughter grows up and finds her way in the world.

The film’s poster refers to the moment in the film when the ‘young’ Julieta morphs into the ‘old’ one and the actors swap. With the change in actor and timeframe, the opening scenes feel a little disconnected from the flashback, almost fictional rather than autobiographical. At times, the rich colour and backdrops distract from the plot and the subtitles. Watch out for how the quality of bookcases vary across Julieta’s life.

The placement of the cast against walls and furniture is exquisite and the framing of shots is beautiful throughout the film. [And the Oscar for best flocked wallpaper goes to …. Julieta.]

Late in the film, one line of the script jumps out:
“We all get what we deserve.”

Laying aside whether this is ever true, the statement signposted a completely different conclusion to the profoundly disappointing one that was projected onto the screen at the end of the 100 minute film. [My version would add 10 seconds with a tractor coming round the corner, an airbag inflating and a black screen.]

You can catch the sumptuous and stylish story of separation in the Queen’s Film Theatre where Julieta is being screened until 8 September.

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