Do we mess up our lives, or is life messy and we’re variously capable of living? Some combination of both is probably the answer, but never mind. While we’re in the neighborhood, are guilt and “what if” unavoidable foods in the human diet? Never mind.
What is it about the middle-aged Julieta that makes you want to understand the burden she carries? What is there about the twenties-through-thirties Julieta that draws you in to what will come of her life? Writer/Director Pedro Almodóvar intentionally chose two actresses to deliver the arc of his title character. (There’s a towel scene that sort of winks at the fact that they don’t really look like each other.)
Almodóvar has a highly-regarded track record of making good use of actresses in his storytelling. With “Julieta,” he has chosen to be less provocative than “All About My Mother” (1999) or “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (1988), although his most recent film is not lacking in sexuality. Merely being evocative should be enough for fans of the Spaniard Almodóvar and probably makes “Julieta” more accessible for foreign language film watchers who are not.
You discover early in the movie that her grown daughter has made no contact with Julieta for many years. She writes to her daughter to help explain their estrangement. This sets up the flashback style of the story and the hope that she might see her again. The way mama needs her child informs most of this film. The way Julieta connects to her parents’ lives adds context. The many smaller roles in the film assure the muted focus on the two Julietas.
Almodóvar, as ever, stages the tone of a film well. “Julieta” works better as a scene by scene experience than it does as a whole movie. The camera enjoys lingering on both the younger and older Julietas, not merely because they are attractive looking. It’s something underlying. Some films, as it is with some people, are attractive because of what works, as well as what doesn’t.