Any showbiz editor will tell you that ‘glamorous woman with a problem’ is a perfect formula for a compelling story.
It’s certainly a motif that’s served Pedro Almodóvar well over the years. The Spanish director has created some of the most fabulous, and fabulously complicated women on screen in recent memory.
Whether it’s the gutsy strength of Penelope Cruz’s grieving, working-class mother in Volver (2006), or Carmen Maura’s seminal Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), striking portraits of amazing women are what Almodóvar does best.
Thus, it’s business as usual in Julieta, an adaptation of Alice Munro’s 2004 book Runaway, which tells the tale of a mother, Julieta, torn apart by grief and guilt when her 18-year-old daughter Antia disappears.
Like all of Almodóvar’s films, the plot sounds unbearably miserable on paper. But this is far from a gloomy affair – the emotions are as varied, vivid and blazing as the colours on display.
The cinematography is addictively sumptuous – whether it’s Julieta’s daring taste in clothes and interiors or the sun-drenched shots of the Spanish countryside.
Every frame is straight out of a high gloss magazine shoot; especially an early flashback scene introducing the arrestingly beautiful Adriana Ugarte as a young Julieta [above], and her fateful first meeting with Anita’s father.
Decked out in wickedly punky 80s garb (and looking a cross between UK supermodel Agyness Deyn and True Blue-era Madonna), and riding an equally hyper-stylised night train, Julieta finds herself drawn drawn to Daniel Grao’s irresistibly sexy Xoan through a tragic turn of events.
A passionate but rocky love affair ensues, and the couple quickly welcome a daughter – never mind the fact Xoan has a wife in a coma, at least initially. Suffice to say, the plot is beyond dramatic: think one part soap opera, one part regular opera, with a dash of black comedy. But this is no campy affair, unlike some of Almodóvar’s past films (particularly 2013’s farcical comedy I’m So Excited!).
This is primarily down to the sensitive performances of the two leads. Emma Suárez plays an older, anguished Julieta [above, center left] battling a new set of problems in the present day – primarily the disappearance of Antia. The two actresses look nothing alike, and yet their Julieta’s are beautifully entangled.
A brief narrative strand hinting at a character’s conflicted sexuality continues Almodóvar’s rich history for LGBTI representation in his work, and is deftly handled. Indeed, all the Almodóvar trademarks are here, and he’s as flamboyant and fun as ever – but there’s a seriousness to this familial drama that’s as compelling as it is deeply satisfying.
Julieta hits UK screens on 26 August. For more information, visit JulietaFilm.com