Relationships fray without stated explanations in Pedro Almodóvar’s Julieta—but the settings reveal what information characters don’t. Julieta (Emma Suarez) receives startling news from a friend on the streets of Madrid, flanked by brutalist architecture in the background. In front of that staggering building, Julieta recieves secondhand words from her long-lost daughter, and the shock of this leads the woman into a state of introspection. She recalls her young self (Adriana Ugarte), and the train where she met her husband (Daniel Grao)—rendered on-screen with polished sets and rear projection-style backgrounds, like a Technicolor romance. She remembers visiting her parents and finding her father in the garden alongside a young mistress, all while her ill mother remains locked in a shrouded bedroom—one character defined by the fertility of his setting, the other by the stark emptiness of her own. And she calls back to the apartment she rented after her daughter ran away from home, a sleek modernist place with unadorned walls and sparse installations, like a blank slate she never asked for.
The cinematography is by Jean-Claude Larrieu, the costume design is by Sonia Grande, and the production design is by Antxon Gomez—all three do just as much storytelling as the film’s narrative. The decades that pass are represented through these formative moments, revealed in a way that shapes the years into cycles: two daughters silently traumatized by their elders, two parents abandoned without explanation, two deaths occurring under mysterious circumstances, two husbands straying from their vows. Each character incurs the sort of debts that come with love, but clean breaks are non-existent, which is to say that they’re never paid off. Julieta moves with patience and rigor toward one sole moment of resolution—which, of course, takes place on an open road.
Published as part of Toronto International Film Festival 2016 | Dispatch 2.