Pedro Almodóvar • Director
by Alfonso Rivera
- Julieta by Pedro Almodóvar is an intimate drama chock-full of references, symbolism and sudden emotions, based on works by Alice Munro; the director from La Mancha breaks down the movie
Every film by Pedro Almodóvar turns out to be a major event that travels well beyond the borders of Spain, and Julieta [+see also:
Q&A: Pedro Almodóvar
film profile] is now hitting screens three years after I’m So Excited [+see also:
film profile]. In his statements to the press, Almodóvar revealed the keys to this painful story starring Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte, who share the title role.
If there is one magical section in your new movie, it’s the one that takes place in a train, which brings Hitchcock to mind.
Pedro Almodóvar: I’m fascinated by trains, both toy ones and ones on film. I’d always dreamed of shooting inside a real one. Of all the means of transport you see in film iconography, the train has to be my favourite, as it spans every single genre – but indeed, the scenes that I remember the most fondly are by Hitchcock (The Lady Vanishes, Strangers on a Train, North by Northwest) and Fritz Lang (Human Desire). Filming inside a high-speed train from the 1980s was tough, not just because of how little space there was, as we could scarcely fit in the actors, the camera and the cameraman, but it was also swarming with mites. But those scenes were crucial because the fate of Julieta is travelling on that very train. That’s why I built the film’s screenplay around the night-train sequence: in a place that is so densely packed with metaphors and meaning, she comes into contact with the two opposite poles of human existence: life and death.
The main character is hounded relentlessly by misfortune… Why?
In the film, there are two heartrending goodbyes that result from fate and bad luck, and which scar Julieta’s conscience. The feeling of guilt, which is also passed on to her daughter, sneaked its way into the script without me realising it completely: it appeared when I was finishing it, at the stage when the various pieces are rejigged and embellished pretty much on their own, almost without any interference from the writer, as it is exuded by the story itself. The sense of guilt is travelling in Julieta’s train like a kind of terrible destiny.
How many of Alice Munro’s short stories made it into the final screenplay?
When I read Runaway, I thought about adapting three of the short stories contained within it: Chance, Soon and Silence, which all have the same main character, Juliet, but they do not run into each other; they are independent stories, and I tried to merge them, adding whatever was necessary. I worked on a first draft by trying to make the three stories my own, and I got on with it all with the kind of freedom you need when writing a screenplay, even though it was an adaptation. But in the end, I was overcome with doubt: I wasn’t sure of the script. I was afraid of changing the language, culture and geography, and so I kept the first draft, without having any specific plan in that regard, even though I had acquired the rights to those stories.
What was it like adapting those storylines to take place in Spain?
I went back and poked around at the draft again two years ago, and I liked it more than I thought I would; then I tried it with the story taking place in Spain. As the Spanish version progressed, I got further and further away from Alice Munro: I had to stand on my own two feet. Her stories still constitute the origins of Julieta, but while it’s hard enough to transpose the Canadian author’s style to film, a discipline that is almost the polar opposite of literature, turning it into a Spanish story is an impossible task. Fans of Alice Munro have to see my Julieta as a tribute to the Nobel Prize winner.
Why does the main character return to the places from her past?
I believe in repetition and rehearsal: human beings unintentionally get tangled up in situations that they have already lived through, as if life were granting us the opportunity to rehearse the hardest moments before they actually arrive. That idea is present in All About My Mother: Manuela the nurse works for the National Transplant Organisation, helping the doctors with the difficult task of announcing the victim’s death to their family, in order to then ask them to agree to donating one of their organs. One fateful night, Manuela is the one who has to go through the same process, but this time as the victim’s mother: she knows how the scene plays out, as she has experienced it for years and years, but from the doctors’ side.
(Translated from Spanish)