Julieta (R) ★★★½

Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte star in Julieta. Photo Credit: Sony Pictures.

A Mother and Child Reunion?

With the slew of super hero mega films, book to film adaptations and unoriginal American pictures that hope the star power will singlehandedly carry the film, foreign films are often refreshing, no matter the theme. This is very much the case with the Spanish drama, Julieta.

Portrayed (as an adult) by Emma Suárez (What’s a Bear For?, 2011), Julieta is a middle-aged former teacher who is preparing to move from Madrid to Portugal in the next few days with her boyfriend, an older sculptor, named Lorenzo (Darío Grandinetti, Francis: Pray for Me, 2015). The reasons are unbeknownst. However, the next day on the street, Julieta randomly runs into a childhood friend of Antía, her estranged daughter. This brief conversation with Beatrix (Michelle Jenner, We Need to Talk, 2016) quickly changes everything for Julieta. Beatrix tells Julieta she recently saw Antía in Switzerland and went on about how crazy it was to find out she had three kids. Julieta, who has not seen or heard from her daughter in well over a decade, is completely stunned by the news. Without hesitation or explanation, she tells Lorenzo she’s changed her mind about moving with him. Completely overcome with the desire to reestablish communication with Antía, she abruptly decides to rent the last apartment (although under construction) that she and Antía shared in the hopes that her daughter will write to that address as neither know the other’s whereabouts. While Julieta achingly awaits for word from her Antía, she begins writing a journal for her daughter that tells the true story about her father in an effort to mend their relationship.

Although this film’s plot may sound depressing, it is truly a very poignant story about the bonds between a mother and child and how it affects the surrounding relationships. Julieta is written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, who is best known to American audiences for Volver (2005), an incredible generational love story starring Penelope Cruz that shares similar themes with Julieta. Although this film may not have the same star power as Volver (which earned Cruz an Oscar nod), it does have incredible acting from its cast, particularly the two women sharing the title role.

Through an extended flashback, we meet young Julieta, (Adriana Ugarte, Palm Trees in the Snow, 2015), a English teacher in her early 20s. While traveling by train through Spain, an older, somewhat strange man tries to engage in conversation with Julieta. She immediately finds herself uncomfortable and heads to the restaurant car where she meets Xoan (Daniel Grao, Palm Trees in the Snow, 2015), a young fisherman from the coast. They quickly hit it off. The train unexpectedly stops after it’s discovered that the man who initially tried talking with Julieta has jumped off of the train and committed suicide. Julieta, who feels guilty, is traumatized, but Xoan is able comfort and console her. They end up spending the night together, despite him mentioning he is married to a woman in a coma.

After returning to her classes and not expecting to hear from Xoan again, Julieta is surprised when she receives a letter from him. Upon reading the letter, she travels to the return address and finds out that Xoan’s comatose wife has just died. Although he is out with another woman the night Julieta arrives, he is still thrilled to see her. They rekindle their relationship and Julieta reveals that she is pregnant.

Over the next few years, the two enjoy their bohemian lifestyle by the sea and raise their daughter, Antía. However, when Antía grows to be a teenager and goes away to camp, the family’s world is rocked by a shocking event, leading to Julieta and Antía’s current estrangement.

Beyond the touching story and acting, audiences will enjoy the sights and sounds of Spain, particularly the coastal shots. With a short running time and availability on Netflix, it may be the perfect break for audiences this winter.

Bottom Line: Julieta is a genuine story about fractured relationships, grief, perseverance and self-discovery. Once again, writer and director, Pedro Almodovar, shows his talent for featuring the complexity of women in a beautiful way. This moving Spanish drama is certainly worth considering next time you feel like a rental. 

Credits: Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar

Cast: Emma Suarez (Julieta Arcos), Adriana Ugarte (Julieta Joven), Daniel Grao (Xoan), Inma Cuesta (Ava), Antía (Priscilla Delgado), Michelle Jenner (Beatriz), Dario Grandinetti (Lorenzo Gentile)

Studio: Warner Bros.

Running Time: 96 minutes

Jessica DeLong © January 20, 2017