Scott Wallace
10th Oct 2016

If there's one thing that you can count on going into a film by Spanish director Pedro Almódovar, it's that you'll be surprised. Following up 2013's I'm So Excited!, possibly his most exuberant (and self-indulgent film) Julieta prunes back many of the director's idiosyncrasies, but remains distinctly his.

The titular character (portrayed by Emma Suárez, and Adriana Ugarte in flashback) is a woman beset by intermingling grief and guilt. She portrays the illusion of being strong and self-sufficient, but she is plagued by doubts and unanswered questions. When a figure from her past in the form of the young Beatriz (Michelle Jenner) rekindles her thoughts of the secret that she dare not share with anyone, Julieta begins to retell her life in flashback in the form of a letter to her absent daughter Antía.

Julieta is a quiet, autumnal film, but maintains Almodóvar's striking visual sense, as well as his distinctive and playful sense of humour. The narrative that spans many years is neatly and firmly tied together with recurring visual motifs and bright colours. There is such a strong sense of continuity and narrative flow from scene to scene, that when the film signifies the ageing process by boldly switching actors for the protagonist mid-scene, there is no clumsiness, only wry and thought-provoking humour.

Arguably, Julieta lacks a central sense of momentum - a firm narrative impetus for the audience to hold onto. As a result, it's slow to begin. At times it feels a little too insular, which may be because of the fact that it is based on the short stories of Alice Munro. As the film develops, though, and the story becomes clearer, it becomes more and more engaging.

Julieta is a subtle film that will turn over and over in your mind until you find an entry point into its deceptively simple story. It's a far-reaching film about the burden of womanhood, but it's also an achingly personal and elliptical tale marked by reflexiveness, recursion, coincidence and ambiguity. Almodóvar is known for implanting in his films a single moment that sheds glowing light on everything around it, but don't expect that here.

Fully digesting Julieta is a lengthy process. It's not a perfect film, but it may be Almodóvar's best combination of his signature theatrical style and his more delicate tendencies. From the cast he elicits genuine connections conflict that span decades, with rivets of narrative running deep throughout. Despite its reservedness, Julieta is a truly cohesive, evocative and original film.

Julieta originally screened as part of the 2016 Sydney Film Festival. It will see wider release on Thursday October 13th via Transmission Films