In his 20th film, Spanish director Pedro Almodovar drops the farcical approach of his last, I'm So Excited!, and the chilling tone of the film before that, The Skin I Live In, returning to what he does so well - creating rich and moving female-centric dramas.
In Julieta, Almodovar adapts three short stories by Canadian writer Alice Munro, telling the story of a mother's estranged relationship with her daughter. The flamboyant filmmaker and restrained novelist seem an unlikely pair but they share a love of complex women, and the subject matter is perfect Almodovar material.
The film begins with a mature Julieta writing a confessional letter to her daughter, sharing the story of how she met her father and the tragic events that led to their family falling apart. The letter is a way of Julieta understanding and accepting her own past - to this point she's been too close to see events clearly, but as she reflects on her life, she and the audience slowly see the truth for what it is.
Julieta's letter narrates the story, which moves back and forth in time in twists and turns through Julieta's life. Adriana Ugarte plays Julieta in her younger days, before Almodovar cleverly slips Emma Suarez into the role after a family drama changes and ages her.
Changing actresses is a risky choice, but it works. Almodovar's new muse Ugarte is captivating as the spiky haired, sexy, confident young Julieta who falls in love with a rugged fisherman and finds herself pregnant. By the time Suarez picks up the role, Julieta is transformed by grief, and she presents a more introverted and affected character who must deal with the mysterious disappearance of her teenage daughter.
Originally, Julieta was going to be Almodovar's English-speaking debut, but it plays out so beautifully in his native Spain it's hard to imagine it set anywhere else. As you expect from the director, the visual approach is vibrant and bold - but what is a bit of a surprise is the lack of humour.
Influenced by the serious nature of Munro's writing, this is a restrained, mature work from Almodovar that compliments the Hitchcock-like mystery as it unravels slowly before us.
Cast: Emma Suarez, Adriana Ugarte
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Running Time: 98 mins
Rating: M (Sex scenes)
Verdict: A wonderful return to form.