Soap Opera-Like Melodrama Dominates Pedro Almodóvar’s New Film 'Julieta'

Over the years, Spanish writer-director Pedro Almodóvar has made some terrific movies that balanced comedy and drama.

Films such as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, High Heels and Live Flesh established him as a unique voice in the world of cinema.

With his latest effort, Julieta, he settles for more conventional drama devoid of the kind of black humor and sexual hijinks that characterized his other efforts.

The movie opens today at the Cedar Lee Theatre.

Based on three short stories from Alice Munro’s book Runaway, the movie focuses on Julieta (Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte), a woman who has struggled to carry on after a falling out with her daughter. Told through a series of flashbacks, the movie chronicles how she got to the point that she became so desperate to find her daughter that she leases an apartment in the building in Madrid where she raised her daughter because she knows her daughter has no other way of getting in touch with her.

The film flashes back to the time when a young Julieta (Ugarte) first met Xoan (Daniel Grao), the fisherman whom she’d marry. After a highly charged tryst on a train, the two fall madly in love and Julieta leaves the big city to settle down with Xoan in the same seaside town where he lives and works.

It's not long before Julieta gives birth to their daughter Antía. Xoan’s tragic death sends both Julieta and Antia into a tailspin, and they struggle to deal with his untimely death.

When Antía goes to a summer camp that emphasizes self-awareness and religious awakenings, she has an epiphany and determines that her mother is to blame for father’s death (the two did argue before he set out on the fishing trip that caused his demise) and vows to never speak to her again.

Julieta (now played by Suárez) is devastated; the only contact she has with her daughter is a blank card she receives on what would've been her daughter's 19th, 20th and 21st birthdays. She routinely buys a cake and then dumps it in the trash when her daughter is a no-show.

The film's climax comes as Julieta finally receives a significant correspondence from her daughter and has a chance to reconcile with her.

While the two actresses who portray Julieta give compelling performances, the film’s reliance upon the kind of melodrama usually reserved for soap operas does little to separate the movie from the latest film based on a schlocky Nicholas Sparks novel.