I thought this quite exceptional. Easily one of Almodovar's very best, maybe even his best of all - and that's an awfully big claim with the record of triumphs which he has merited to date (overlooking his rare and untypical misfire in last year's camp-festy 'I'm So Excited').
Despite a few sniffy, though minority, reviews I've seen which thought the story over-stretched credibility, I found 'Julieta' (entirely Spanish dialogue) captivatng from start to finish. There's no let-up in its sombre mood - underlined by a well-judged and serious, often troubling, background soundtrack - right from its opening until a few seconds from the finish. Nevertheless, it's a heartfelt, beautiful and unsettling film in which one never knows where it's going to go next.
The opening section shows the title character, a woman in late middle-age, (Emma Suarez) preparing to leave Spain to move to Portugal with her partner - when, for some unclear reason which she denies him, she changes her mind. It turns out that she's just bumped into a former close friend of her daughter, the latter having deliberately estranged herself from her mother, not having made contact with her for 12 years. The former friend explains that the daughter is now herself a mother of three and living in circumstances which only become a bit clearer late in the film. So the mother returns to the apartment which she'd intended to vacate, changes her mind about leaving and starts writing a letter/memoir to her daughter, explaining things that she hadn't told her when she'd disappeared out of her mother's life when still a teenager.
From there on it's a succession of re-creations of parts of the mother's earlier life, now played by Adriana Ugarta, with her newly-born and, later, then young daughter - but, very importantly, it tells her of the circumstances of her birth, how she met by chance, and fell in love with, a young man (Daniel Grao) on a train during a night of strange happenings, a night which was to change both of them for ever.
The mystery of how the younger Julieta gets to where we found her elder self at the film's start is very well choreographed, managing to hold in abeyance things that happened on the way without tipping us over into exasperation. All the time we sincerely want to know what happens next, and it's doubly satisfying when we get to find out. But that's not to say that the film's conclusion doesn't leave questions unanswered. There are certainly knots still left untied as it finishes. However, for the first time in the film, the background music strikes a note of optimism, which rounds it all off very neatly while also leaving a smidgeon of unresolved suspense.
I've no criticism at all with the director's efforts. There are no outlandish or spectacular gestures. Everything is kept to a modest scale as befits the very personal struggle the title character undergoes. Similarly, I have nothing but praise for the entire cast - specifically, both 'Julieta' actresses cohesively holding the film together despite appearing in two different time-frames.
Thoroughly enjoyable; if you're already a fan of Pedro Almodovar (and who isn't?) I'll be very surprised if you're not most impressed by this film. If it doesn't feature in my Top 5 of the year, and towards the upper end of it at that, I'll......I'll........ooh, I don't know!..................8.
1 hour ago