Almodovar is back to his best with Julieta

Pedro Almodovar returned to Cannes for the sixth time. He’s still very much after a Palme d’Or and he’s still one of the great masters of European cinema, maybe one of the most distinctive screen artists of the last 30 years.

Julieta, his latest, plunges you into the Almodovarian universe immediately, opening on a silky, red crumpled material, like a wounded heart.

It’s a the story of a middle-aged woman, Julieta (Emma Suarez), who is about to leave Madrid with her arts journalist boyfriend to live in Portugal. However, a chance meeting on the street with a childhood friend of her daughter’s plunges her into anguish and depression, like a “relapse”.

Julieta tells the boyfriend she won’t leave Madrid, and seeks an apartment in the building where she used to live. She immediately starts a long diary letter addressed to her estranged daughter, telling her – and by extension us – in a long flashback what has happened.

It’s a typically Almodovar piece of voice over, playing with memory, lies, secrets, comas, plastic surgery, identity, mothers and daughters. It’s also about absence and tragedy and a lot of regret. Some of it unravels as a mystery, a detective story. “I feel like a character in a Patricia Highsmith novel,” remarks someone, underlined by Alberto Iglesias’ excellent, noir-ish score.

There’s a touch of comedy and surrealism, a fisherman boyfriend lost at sea and a bohemian sculptor artist that could be based on Penelope Cruz, only not in Almodovar but more in Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

I thought this was Pedro back to his best, to that amazing run of form he had stretching through All About My Mother, Talk to Her, Bad Education and Volver. This has all the poise and bold confidence of those films – perhaps not their greatness, but not their melodrama either. Instead it’s suffused with a certain melancholy about wasted time and lost moments that I found extremely touching and tearful. Fabulous.

 

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