Julieta: Pulped flesh
by Alfonso Rivera
- Pedro Almodóvar’s new film is a stylised ode to depression, with glimmers of talent but an overdose of self-indulgence, wallowing in misfortune and tragedy
A suicide, a multiple sclerosis sufferer, a character with senile dementia, a person knocked down by a car and two drownings: these are just a few examples of the slew of awful situations we are presented with in Julieta [+see also:
Q&A: Pedro Almodóvar
film profile], the 20th movie by Pedro Almodóvar, one of the best European filmmakers of all time. The aforementioned list refers only to physical aspects, because if we included the psychological afflictions that the characters in this – supposedly restrained – drama suffer from, said list would end up being endless: suspicions, a lack of communication and understanding, desperation, nihilism, dejection… In the wake of his outrageous comedy I’m So Excited [+see also:
film profile], Almodóvar has swept aside humour and happiness, and instead spews out his most intense, painful and sadistic movie to date, which is nonetheless impeccably executed and dripping with his inimitable style.
While we have already borne witness to some of his previous exercises in profoundness – which admittedly left us aghast and somewhat incredulous – he would always leave room to go off on an entertaining tangent: we only need remember the scenes featuring Chus Lampreave, who passed away recently, in The Flower of My Secret, or even the absurdity of Roberto Álamo’s tiger in The Skin I Live In [+see also:
interview: Pedro Almodóvar
film profile]; as a matter of fact, a book by Alice Munro turned up in that movie, and the Canadian Nobel Prize winner’s three short stories have now been adapted by Almodóvar in this film overstuffed with subplots (such as the one revolving around the lead character’s home town) and sorrowful situations, with the shadow of tragedy hovering over the entire movie.
Why does Pedro make his girl suffer so? Why does she feel so much rage, with the burden of guilt weighing her down in such a depraved and sadomasochistic way? And why are the two characters that have the greatest influence on her terrible ordeal so stupid? Admittedly, the director of High Heels has always crafted worlds in which anything was possible, but here, things have got out of hand with a deep and devastating tragedy that gives us a constant lump in our throats and exudes an unwholesome energy, which Emma Suárez endures with grace and dignity. From this point of view, she is highly deserving not only of a Goya, but also of an Oscar: a shoot like this, where her character is not even allowed to yell out in angst, must have been hell.
It is as though this is what Almodóvar wants us to feel: life’s really shitty, fate is fickle, and the people who will cause us the most suffering are our loved ones. And he portrays it all with the skilled editing of José Salcedo, a great score by Alberto Iglesias and a refined mise-en-scène with dazzling cinematography courtesy of Jean-Claude Larrieu. It is worth singling out the transition from one actress to another in the same role (Adriana Ugarte into Emma Suárez) in a scene that explains the film’s poster, where both women appear. It’s just a shame that talent like this is squandered on a story that is warped to such a degree that it loses credibility, fleshed out with far-fetched dialogue and featuring a deus ex machina-like resolution that is simply not acceptable from a two-time Oscar-winning filmmaker, one of which was for Best Screenplay.
With Julieta (produced, as usual, by his own company El Deseo), the man behind All About My Mother and Talk to Her [+see also:
film profile] has attempted to go deeper than Bergman, to get more serious than Kieslowski and to be more savage than Douglas Sirk as he examines how destructive pain, a lack of communication and absurdity can end up being. But what is surprising is that he has let himself get carried away with sentimentality and plot twists that seem to have come straight out of a radio serial.
(Translated from Spanish)