Something’s changed on Almodóvar’s palette… and it’s not his colour. This provocative artist of the screen has picked up a thinner brush, drained out the playfulness, washed off the humour and left us with a much grittier side to his world. Indeed, the director sees Julieta (2016) as his first ‘pure drama’; a sinister come-down from the buzz of his polysexual melodramas and into the crippling world of maternal anguish. His 20th feature… and a new era in Almodóvar?
‘Julieta’ casts a darker shadow on many of Almodóvar’s defining themes, the most notable being motherhood. Here, his conventional portrayal and celebrations of motherhood become obscured and instead we get a vision of motherhood characterised by absence. For Julieta, her maternal role becomes nothing short of a curse, as she is left behind by her fleeing daughter Antía. Through a series of retrospective flashbacks and narration, Almodóvar creates an atmosphere of obsession and guilt which tortures Julieta and prevents her from moving on. The story reflects the paralysis of a mother who constantly re-examines her past to the point that she is left with no identity of her own. She is a mother, or she is nothing. This crisis is captured beautifully in Julieta’s tragic line:
“Your absence fills my entire life”
Given the sentiment, I predict Julieta to really strike a chord with audiences in the UK. Unlike his last film – I’m so Excited! (2013) – which flopped outside Spain, Julieta will speak to the heart of many British people. That gulf or separation between parent and child is something we can all relate too… perhaps something we especially relate to. Almodóvar has compared the Spanish family structure to “an umbilical cord joining us to our parents and grandparents [which] survives the passing of time”. Can we really say the same about ours?
In our English-speaking worlds, it is more normal to leave home early, to go to university or work in other cities, to distance ourselves and seek lives where the parent is a more peripheral figure. We actively and at times fiercely seek independence from our homes. This is why I see Julieta as having a distinctly un-Spanish feel. For the first time, what we see on screen is actually closer to us than it is to Almodóvar… and he accepts this. Why else did he plan this to be his first ever English-language film? Adapted from Canadian novelist Alice Munro’s Runaway. Plans to shoot in New York. Meryl Streep to play the lead. This is an English-language tragedy through-and-through.
Of course, Julieta ended up in Almodóvar’s mother tongue. Nonetheless, those raw English-language sentiments will carry more international weight than his earlier, cult-films. Hence this idea of a new era. Pedro Almodóvar is actively adopting a wiser and graver vision. A vision which is beginning to expand beyond the confines of Spain and onto a universal playing field. We are so used to celebrating Almodóvar for his foreign, unfamiliar ‘otherness’. I really doubt that many people can relate to Almodóvar’s manically lurid and scandalous worlds. That is literally the point of his work… to provoke, to shock, to entertain and to scandalise! Over his last 19 features, Almodóvar has blown up our reality in an explosion of Madrilenian excitement.
Now he has decided to pick up pieces of rubble to create something disturbingly familiar. And what better place to start tackling our present realities than with the distancing between child and parent?