Middleburg Film Review: ‘Julieta’ Is Fierce and Rich With Colossal Performances From Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte

julieta-new-poster2016 MIDDLEBURG FILM FESTIVAL: Pedro Almodovar has been a filmmaker who has embraced the eccentric and often overlooked beauties of the world. He explores relationships of vast entities, many dealing with the intricacies of what it means to be truly “family.” In his newest film “Julieta,” he manages to blend his long-running theme with the mystery and prowess of a suspense thriller that you may have seen by a new era Hitchcock filmmaker. While not a slam dunk by his own nearly immeasurable standards, especially since his résumé includes “Talk to Her,” there’s a sense of satisfaction and familiarity that will pull you through the cunning tale.

After a casual encounter, a brokenhearted Julieta decides to confront her life and the most important events surrounding her stranded daughter.

“Julieta” beams with bright colors, and a sense of fashion that captures all of Almodovar’s unique sensibilities. He always manages to capture the mood of a time, and focus heavily on the world in which his characters live. The film is layered with contrasting themes, all exploring the mindset around depression, guilt and love. While those seem like your run-of-the-mill, average movie, Almodovar taps into it with passion, something he never lacks.

As seen in his other films, Almodovar captures the essence of his characters by choosing stunning and talented actors to portray them. In this instance, we have two sensational examples with Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte.  

Both playing the title character, the two women both tap into the soul of a woman riddled with guilt and relentlessly trying to suppress it. As the younger Julieta, Ugarte brings “fierce” to a whole new level. Feeling like a call back to Sean Young in “A Kiss Before Dying,” Ugarte shimmers in each frame, first as an unsure, wanderer of the world, and later as a captivating but lost mother following tragic events. She passes the baton to Suárez, or in the film’s case, under a red, damp towel. Suárez lingers in our thoughts and prayers and Julieta desperately aches for stability and happiness. Feeling like she was bred from the same tree that Carey Mulligan was, Suárez brings an anguish and intensity that is downright ravishing.

In the scheme of developing a story to a resolution, Almodovar lays the bricks, piece by piece. One of the quibbles with that is when you are laying the intricate foundation that this filmmaker and writer has set upon, the ending must match the same dedication. For some viewers, they will feel empty and perhaps miffed. Others who typically don’t need the cookie cut-out of closure will be contented with the experience and apply it to their own lives.  

As Spain’s Oscar submission, “Julieta” may be able to capture the eye of awards voters. In terms of easier, less “demanding” watches, “Julieta” surely fits the bill. If you’re looking for a deeper, more complex experience, you may have to look elsewhere. Some movie watchers are more than happy with the simple things. With lots to admire from the dramatic, heartbreaking undertones, to the sparkling chuckles, this is Almodovar’s best effort since “Volver.”  

“Julieta” is distributed by Sony Pictures Classics and will be released on Dec. 21 (limited release).

GRADE: (★★★)