“You were born to change the world.”
“We may never know the truth.”
“I said a lot of terrible things to you. My heart was broken, and I know yours is broken, too.”
“I know everything about you. The truth that you hide.”
Brooding, sentimental and utterly charming
I think I’ve only given five stars twice this year. This will now be the third as ‘Julieta‘ is unquestionably a five star movie. The entire film has an air of intrigue which smothers the viewer and draws them into a grief-tainted realm of love and loss. There’s much brooding meditation on universal themes such as fate and guilt – how yearning and regret can torture generations.
Julieta (Suárez) is about to move away from Madrid to Portugal with Lorenzo (Grandinetti). When she goes on her final errands she has a chance encounter with Beatriz (Jenner) who was the childhood best friend of Julieta’s daughter Antia. Beatriz tells Julieta about how she had bumped into Antia the week prior, about how well she was looking and how she meet Antia’s children. It’s a casual encounter and yet it forces Julieta to face her past. She tells Lorenzo that she will not be moving to Portugal with him but she doesn’t tell him the reason – that she needs to confront the events that led up to the decades-long estrangement of her and her daughter.
One of the film’s great successes it how it instantaneously hooks the viewer in whilst revelling very little. We can observe much about Julieta and her relationship with Lorenzo – we see how happy and doubt free she appears to be about the move- and how this shifts entirely by to what would appear to bystanders as smalltalk-laden chance encounter. We witness how her moving forward with her life is swiftly halted as she is ejected back into her past. Not only is she inevitably forced back to the past mentally and emotionally, she then returns to living in the apartment block she lived in with Antia in the hope of manifesting ghosts of her past into present figures. The letter she then begins to write to Antia serves as the frame of the story, the letter starts at the beginning and we are then placed their – in the 1980s with a twenty-something Julieta played by a different actress (Ugarte).
What follows could then be categorised as a lengthy flashback and yet it doesn’t quite fit nor feel like that. Assigning that label makes it sound like a laborious or arduous watch – it wholeheartedly isn’t. We, the viewer, live the memories just as Julieta is reliving them. We follow Julieta as she meets Antia’s father Xoan (Grao), her relationship with him, Antia’s birth and the seemingly fated separation that occurs with both of them. Julieta is a specialist in Classics and an air of Greek mythology lingers over the events – a prevailing sense of tragedy and predestiny, decision and consequence, fate and regret.
As we face in our own lives some of the events in Julieta’s life come as a quick and devastating surprise whilst others are drawn out, almost suffocating in their inevitability. Both Ugarte and Suárez are truly excellent in their joint role – each providing so much depth to Julita, each equally and superbly moving as they endure unresolved personal heartbreak. This, of course, would not be possible were it not for the master behind the camera. Almodóvar reminds us, were it needed, that he is one of cinema’s greatest living directors. He tells the story in a way that is both fractured yet whole- just like Julieta – muted yet melodramatic. Many moments within the film are gasp-inducing in their blend of beauty and tragedy, but none more so than the switch from younger to older Julieta. It’s a tradition that is the epitome of seamless yet utterly shattering.
Extraordinarily stylish on the eye, food for your soul, heartbreaking yet heart-mending. Extraordinary.
Country: Spain Year: 2016 Run time: 99 Minutes
Julieta is in UK cinemas now.
British indie at its finest
This film sums up what we Brits do well – a somewhat melancholic story told with warmth and humour. An unsentimental tale told with compassion. Also, puns. There is so much to love about this film that I suspect I’ll be championing it a long while yet.
Anna (Jodie Whittaker) is one week away from her thirtieth birthday. She works at a nature resort in a middle-of-nowhere part of Northern England, lives in the shed at the end of her mum’s garden and enjoys making films featuring her thumbs with smiley faces on them talking about nihilism. Due to the relatively recent death of her twin brother (Edward Hogg) she can’t face talking about her birthday, yet it seems everyone from mum Marion (Lorraine Ashbourne) and Grandma Jean (Eileen Davies) to her best friend Fiona (Rachael Deering) and Fiona’s sister Alice (Alice Lowe) to the boy who used to annoy her at school Brendan (Brett Goldstein) want to talk about both her Birthday and where her life is going.
Although the setting, the majority of the characters and their circumstances may not initially appear universal they really are. The film acts as a reflection on loss, self-isolation and the struggle to find who you are. Yes, as a 23 year old female that may appear more relevant to me than many others it’s relevant to us all. We all have experienced – be that aged 3, 23, 33,53 or 83 – a loss that derailed us, that either out of choice or not, took us on a course we never intended. Grief lasts far longer than the funeral and for some we wake up years later and look at metaphorically derelict path we ended up on. Anna’s self-loathing may be a concept I am all too aware of through personal experience, yet the battle to regain self-confidence is a ubiquitous challenge many of us have/will face. The fact we see such likeable and familiar-seeming characters facing this in ‘Adult Life Skills’ makes for a deep and visceral experience.
I apologise if the above paragraph made the film sound boring and serious. It really isn’t boring but it is somewhat serious, in terms of its themes not how it is told. It is properly funny quite often and whilst I did cry (I think it was at least three times) I did guffaw at least double that and left the screen grinning.
I loved every single one of the characters. I really felt like Anna became a friend whilst watching the film, she’s so well-rounded both in characterisation and performance. I’ve loved watching Whittaker in everything I’ve seen her in (Good Vibrations is my personal favourite) and her performance her is no exception. Fiona is brilliant as the best friend desperately trying to help her lost friend. Brett Goldstein, who was wonderful in last year’s little known indie flick SuperBob, is just as good here. He is great at playing a logical figure to Anna’s less-than-logical thought processes, providing a truly earnest performance. Pus the man is an expert at eyebrow acting.
‘Adult Life Skills’ is now easily in my top five films of the year so far. Whilst Mother’s Day (click here to read my review) may be filling cinema screens with a national release, profiting on cheap and disingenuous sentiment, it is films like this we should be rooting for. When the film ended it felt like I was saying goodbye to newfound friends. Yesterday’s preview was the first of my many watches of it.
What happens to a bomb that doesn’t explode?
My response to this film is surprisingly (well it would be to my past self) problematic. If I had reviewed it soon after watching yesterday I would have been rather damning of the film. Now, with roughly 28 hours worth of distance from seeing it, I feel slightly warmer towards it. (Only a few degrees mind – let’s not go crazy). With a level of retrospect I can admire the ideas and ambition of the film, something which I wouldn’t have been able to do initially after watching. However, whilst I may feel softer towards it I am still not a fan and think the film is largely unsuccessful it what it wants to achieve.
Three years ago famous war photographer Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert) died in what most believed was a car accident. Now, as a museum retrospective of her life and works is fast approaching, her close friend is about to write an article about her in the New York Times and as he advises her widower Gene (Gabriel Byrne) he will mention in the article the fact that her death was most likely suicide. Gene must now find a way of telling his youngest son Conrad (Devin Druid) the truth before he finds out through other means. An opportunity to do so arrives when eldest son Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg leaves his wife and newborn daughter to come home and help look through his mother’s work space to find photos for the retrospective. Whilst home Jonah must find a way of coming to terms with the past in the form of ex-girlfriend, his brother’s difficult present and how his future role as a father may be shaped by his relationship with his own.
It’s interesting that through writing the above plot summary I found myself again warmly engaging with the key ideas of the film. All of us have been touched by some sense of loss and each of us will handle the grief in different ways – some may mentally stay in the past with that person whilst others may push such thoughts aside and stay primarily focused on the present and future.
All of the actors do a fine job in subtly portraying grief. Byrne’s father trying to do the right thing for his two boys whilst watching his relationships with both fade away truly pulls at the heartstrings and occasionally at the bone. Druid plays the difficult emotionally stunted teen finely and somewhat reflecting the universal horror of adolescence. As difficult as my audience-actor relationship is with Eisenberg (forgiveness for his version of Lex Luthor is still far far away) but at times I did appreciate his character Jonah. I can say quite honestly that in the film’s opening sequence I even enjoyed watching him.
But it’s Huppert’s grief that is perhaps the most visceral, even though it is she that is being grieved by the family she left behind. It is a roughly two minute sequence about halfway through the film that really demonstrates this. The camera just focuses on her face in close-up for two minutes. For those two minutes nothing else happens. But as we know her character and we know the emotional battles she suffered (between her art and being a mother/wife) we read the metaphorical scars on her face. We look into her eyes and see the utter despair. We look behind her mask in a way we either chose or are unable to do with each other in real life.
All of this being said I think these ideas are stunted by execution. Though the pontification and using on the nature of grief is extraordinary and truly applaudable, either through intention or accident we are unable to connect with any of the characters – all are pretty unlikeable on various levels and for various reasons. It’s this aspect of the film that will and has been truly dividing audiences. Perhaps it is intention – that grief cannot and should not be sugarcoated, sometimes it will bring out the worst in each of us. However I am in the camp that views this as a flaw and something that prevents me from truly connecting with the film.
Whilst I well and truly admire the film’s sentiments and ideas by borderline disdain for it’s characters stops me from truly appreciating its merits. The fact the film takes a rather poetic storytelling approach, of drifting between moments, of days being indefinable, of present day being interchangeable with memory, did was not cohesive enough for me. In some ways I write this paragraph with a degree of apology, as someone who lost a relative (my uncle) in June and will soon be facing the prospect of that first anniversary without him. Sometimes I reflect on whether I am grieving ‘properly’, if I am approaching my grief ‘healthily’ and if I am ‘normal’ in my response. The film carefully weaves these ideas into it’s narrative but somewhat abandons them in favour of artistic statement and style.
Whilst full of poignant moments the film is ultimately too cold and reserved to provide the cathartic intimacy it appears to wish to provide.