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‘Julieta’ review: Almodóvar’s latest focuses on themes, not answers

Inma Cuesta and Adriana Ugarte in

Inma Cuesta and Adriana Ugarte in "Julieta," directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Credit: TNS / Manolo Pavon

PLOT A woman tries to understand why her teenage daughter disappeared.

CAST Emma Suárez, Adriana Ugarte, Daniel Grao

RATED R (sexuality and adult themes)


PLAYING AT Roslyn Cinemas, Stony Brook 17 and Malverne Cinema and Art Center.

BOTTOM LINE Pedro Almodóvar’s latest isn’t his strongest, but his vibrant, vivid world of women is always a great place to be.

Serendipity, random chance, flawed outcomes and the overall weirdness of life can be difficult things to describe. Movies, which are built on tidy formulas, tend to do a particularly bad job of it, but Pedro Almodóvar’s “Julieta” is an exception. Based on three interconnected short stories from Alice Munro’s collection “Runaway,” the director’s latest zeros in on one woman’s messy, maddening journey from wild young thing to middle-aged mother. Though it isn’t the filmmaker’s strongest work, it’s an intriguing attempt to tell a story that’s rife with symbolism but shrugs its shoulders at any larger meaning.

“Julieta” adds two newcomers to Almodóvar’s pantheon of vibrant actresses: Adriana Ugarte and Emma Suárez, who play the younger and older Julieta, respectively. Initially, the film seems to be a dreamy gaze into Julieta’s past, triggered when she bumps into one of her daughter’s old friends, Bea (Michelle Jenner). It’s a chance encounter, but we’ll learn later that for Julieta it’s a seismic event. Her daughter, Antía, vanished 13 years ago.

“Julieta” has the moody, spooky feel of a Hitchcock-style thriller thanks to Almodóvar’s vivid visuals (the film is riddled with red, from shirts to cars to wallpaper) and a lush score by Alberto Iglesias. Julieta scours her memory for clues, revisiting her first great love, a handsome fisherman named Xoan (Daniel Grao), and her seemingly close relationship with Antía (Blanca Parés plays the character as a secretive teenager). Somewhere, something went terribly wrong, but Julieta has no idea what it was.

At times, the indeterminate nature of “Julieta” works against itself. We identify so strongly with Julieta (especially as played by Suárez, whose eyes radiate rage and hurt) that we desperately want her to puzzle out the answers to her questions. When she doesn’t — at least not as decisively as we’d like — we suspect the movie itself isn’t quite clear about things either. “Julieta” ends on a dangling note that feels slightly satisfying but also frustrating. That may be exactly Almodóvar’s intention.


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