Once again we peer into the cinematic mirror to reflect and better understand the human condition.
‘Julieta’ is Pedro Almodovar’s triumphant twentieth foray into feature film making.
The opening scene lingers on a full sized screen of cherry red rhythmically undulating charmeuse, both lustrous and reflective, as if the fabric itself was alive and breathing rather heavily. Will this be one of the bawdy and hilarious wild rides Mr. Almodovar is known for?
The tone quickly changes from sensuality to somber.
The silk is the shirt of a middle aged woman, Julieta, in full tilt relocation mode, as she prepares for her middle essence transformation, taking up life with her new partner in a new country. Overtaken with emotion while carefully packing up table top sculptures of male ceramic nudes in her urbane apartment she takes a break to run errands.
On the street Julieta bumps into childhood friend, Bea, of her estranged daughter, Antia.
We are then pulled into a series of flashbacks as Julieta embarks on a well-known therapeutic exercise in which a person writes a letter to someone they are in conflict with, whether they send it or not.
These sculptures figure prominently throughout the plot.
Writing a letter, whether it is sent or not, can be therapeutic.
‘Julieta’ is based on three short stories from a collection called, ‘Runaway,’ by the prestigious Mann Booker Prize award winning author, Alice Munro.
The central question at the heart of the film is the mother/daughter rift.
Without giving away too much of the plot, let us just say ‘Julieta’ is a classic story of separation and individuation. Shrouded in secrecy, accurate information about a daughter’s complicated birth story and a trauma that upended what little certainty, happiness and security the family did achieve sets the stage for the surviving parent and child cut off.
From an early age, Antia was acutely aware she was raised in an unconventional way frowned upon by others.
Young Julieta was gossiped about, but no one was candid with Antia to help clear up misconceptions after life altering disaster struck.
Instead of resolving her grief, Antia was left alone with her thoughts and feelings being raised by a depressed mother, Julieta.
No wonder Antia grew resentful and the strict practice of religion became so attractive to her. Only a devote faith wiped out any doubts and provided answers to confusing questions. From the tender age of 8 or 9, Antia felt horribly guilty for the tragedy that befell the family because she was born, though she was unable to fully articulate this narrative.
Children often internalize bad feelings about themselves based upon feeling responsible for the actions of adults when they should not.
Complicated unresolved guilt explains why Antia was ashamed of her upbringing and disowned her mother whom she perceived as unforgivable, even reprehensible.
Without the ability to come clean with the facts or truth, the only route for Antia to launch into adulthood, was to emotionally cut off with her mother. Antia, now a mother of three living in a religious community in Switzerland (we learn from Bea), rejected her mother to become independent and live life on her own terms.
Antia yearned for a simpler way of life by aligning herself with a religious cult. Prior to that Antia distanced herself from Julieta by bonding with Bea’s classy family, which better suited Antia’s more conservative temperament.
Children always know more than adults give them credit for which is why it is important to be developmentally appropriate while candid and sensitive with children.
Left to their own devices children often get large portions of a story wrong. They need adults to fact check and provide a balanced perspective. As an impressionable youngster, Antia likely perceived more than she was ever told about the circumstances of her birth but did not posses the maturity to make sense of it all without adult supervision that was absent.
Without accurate facts or emotional support the effects of the silence formed by secrets were worse than the facts. Until the real story was told, anxieties showed up as suppressed resentments and fears that overtook the relationship.
It is a triumphant turn of events when Julieta takes on the mission of reuniting with her daughter, whether or not they ultimately reunite.
Interesting to note that Antia disappeared from Julieta’s life, about the same age Julieta was when Antia was conceived.
The daughter’s need to abandon her mother was payback or revenge grown from mistrust that her mother’s past or present behavior would be unacceptable in her repressed, sanitized, and sedate cloistered life. Notice, the film is entitled, ‘Julieta,’ not ‘Antia.‘ The more interesting plot is the plight of the mother who wants to make good on an opportunity to clear up the cold case of her daughter’s disappearance.
The notion of second chances to revive a relationship by going to remarkable lengths to show how much one cares today makes for touching melodrama.
One approaching middle age and the other well into it, mother and daughter could be mature enough to reconcile and be mutually respectful, now that they are less dependent on each other. That would be a victory given they are both seasoned by reflection and refined in their respective particularities. Would they be able to embrace each other’s differences and ultimately renegotiate healthier boundaries?
What about the sensitive and handsome lover Julieta tried to dump without much explanation, as Antia had done to her?
Some might say Julieta would have been better off focusing on her new life with her new lover, rather than trying to rectify the bitterness of the past.
Others might say full healing comes to terms with what ‘is.’ What does it really mean to have it all? This is for you to decide. Art house films of this caliber challenge a viewer and deserve to be seen on the big screen in movie theaters committed to the genre.
Disclaimer Alert: Watching movies is no substitute for therapy, though great films can reveal insights about life. If you or someone you know is suicidal, do not hesitate to reach out to a professional or trusted family member or friend to get needed help.
If you — or someone you know — need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.
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