Julieta Civic

Almodóvar the fabulador

Julieta is Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s 20th feature film and is based on three short stories by Canadian novelist and Nobel Prize winner, Alice Munro.

Almodóvar has been making feature-length movies for nearly 40 years and remains Spain’s most internationally acclaimed filmmaker. I love this quote from the man himself: “Already when I was very young, I was a fabulador [storyteller]. I loved to give my own version of stories that everybody already knew. When I got out of a movie with my sisters, I retold them the whole story. In general they liked my version better than the one they had seen.” [Source: IMDB Pedro Almodóvar Biography]

I saw his break-through film, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), while at university and I loved that an art-house movie could be so bright, colourful, funny, sexy, and over-the-top. I’ve been consistently moved and entertained by his best movies ever since, particular highlights being:

All About My Mother (1999) (which won an Oscar for best foreign language film), Talk to Her (2002) (which won a best screenplay Oscar) Volver (2006) (which earned Penélope Cruz a lead actress Oscar nomination) The Skin I Live In (2011).

I’ve not had a chance to see The Skin I Live In yet, but this disturbing horror/thriller would seem to represent a bit of a departure for Almodóvar. Most of his films are more in the romantic drama vein, with dashes of comedy and soap opera mixed in.

His most recent film before Julieta was the comedy I’m So Excited (2013), which by most accounts was a bit of a dud. Julieta, then, has been hailed as a return to form. By his own account, he’s toned down the comic touches for this movie:

“I was looking for pure drama, not melodrama. I wanted more restraint. Nobody sings, no one talks about cinema and there’s no humour. I had to force myself there; sometimes during rehearsals the odd comic line would come up, which was a relief for the actors. But after the rehearsals, I decided, no humour. I thought it was the best way to tell such a painful story.” [Source: IMDB Pedro Almodóvar Biography]

In common with most of his other films, Julieta portrays strong female characters. Again, Almodóvar’s own words demonstrate best why he’s always taken this approach in his movies:

“In the last decade you can count the number of Hollywood dramas that have revolved around women. The studios have forgotten that women are fascinating.” [Source: IMDB Pedro Almodóvar Biography]

The story he tells in Julieta concerns a mother and her estranged daughter and the search for the reason she left. This fascinating Behind The Script article describes how Almodóvar transformed three stories from Alice Munro’s 2004 short story collection, Runaway, into the movie Julieta. The first, Chance, concerned a graduate student, Juliet, and her train journey from Toronto to Vancouver, during which she meets a man with whom she falls in love and has a daughter. In the second story, Soon, set a few years later, Juliet visits her family in Toronto and finds her mother ill and her father cheating on her. The third story, Silence, set in Vancouver, centres on a now middle-aged Juliet, who is abandoned by her grown-up daughter.

Almodóvar has linked the three stories into a new narrative and transplanted the action to Spain’s capital, Madrid. He had considered retaining the Canadian locations in what would have been his first English-language film. However, given his greater comfort with the Spanish language and culture, he ultimately stuck with what he knows best. I wonder how an English-language version would have turned out? Meryl Streep was apparently approached about starring, so it could have been interesting. But then again, it’s probably for the best that Almodóvar decided against this.

Iain Pardoe is an online university instructor who enjoys the movies of Hayao Miyazaki even more than the kids and loves rewatching favourites from his youth with his family when he’s not playing soccer or skiing.