JULIETA (2016, Spain)

January 26, 2017

julieta Greetings again from the darkness. Pedro Almodovar is a fascinating filmmaker and one that I’ve followed consistently since his 1988 Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Over that almost 30 year period, I have rarely felt let down by his work, and have quite often walked out of the theatre in awe of his artistry, creativity and dedication to providing original cinematic viewing experiences.

The quite visually suggestive opening sets the stage for an Almodovar experience, only what follows is much different than what we have come to expect. It’s (somewhat) based on the short story trilogy of Alice Munro (Destino, Pronto, Silencio), and returns him again to his strength – telling the story of women. It may not be as flamboyant as some of his previous work, but rather it’s a pure and earnest emotional drama. It even has a bit of Hitchcockian flavor with the element of mystery playing a central role.

Emma Suarez and Adrian Ugarte alternate in the role of Julieta and both are excellent. Ms. Suarez plays the older Julieta looking back on her life, while Ms. Ugarte populates most of the memories being entered into the journal … a writing effort designed to fill in the life gaps for her long estranged daughter Antia.

We learn that Julieta fell in love with fisherman Xoan (Daniel Grao) while his wife was in a coma, and that Antia was conceived before the wife passed away. Xoan’s housekeeper Marian (played brilliantly by Almodovar regular Rossy de Palma) is one who knows a man has needs, but doesn’t always know when to speak and when to remain silent. One of her not so secret secrets is Xoan’s artist friend Ava (Imma Cuesta) who manages to get close to Xoan, Julieta and Antia. Ava is such an interesting character that a movie about her could have been equally entertaining. Other key players here are the older Julieta’s boyfriend Lorenzo (another Almodovar regular Dario Grandinetti) and Antia’s special childhood friend Bea (Sara Jimenez) who appears years later (as Michelle Jenner) in a quick appearance that rocks Julieta’s world.

Guilt, death, love, disappointment, and relationships are all significant pieces to this Almodovar puzzle. Spirituality even pops up when Antia attends a retreat and makes her life-altering decision … one spurred by youth and vulnerability, and possibly leading to regret later in life. As Julieta recounts her life, we understand her middle-aged whole in the heart. She has “lost” everyone she has ever loved – her husband, her daughter, her mother.

Cinematographer Jean-Claude Larrieu experiments with camera angles and captures the beautiful vistas and landscapes, while never losing the intimacy required for such an emotional journey. The color red is all over the film and almost jumps off the screen at times, ensuring that the visual element never is far removed from the drama. The score from Alberto Iglesias is excellent and quite a complement to another master work from Almodovar.

watch the trailer:

 

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TALK TO HER (Hable con ella, Spain, 2002)

January 19, 2014

talk to her Greetings again from the darkness.  Not many writers/directors would put their two lead actresses in a coma for most of the movie.  But then Pedro Almodovar has never been one for a conventional approach.  His creative, challenging and visual story telling is at its peak with Talk To Her.  The Dallas Film Society provided an opportunity for me to revisit this one for the first time since my initial viewing in 2002.  A rare Best Original Screenplay Oscar winner for a Foreign Language film, those eleven plus years have not even slightly dulled the impact.

It’s typically pretty simple to determine what genre a particular film falls into.  Somehow Almodovar walks (and writes) a fine line between love story and horror story … comedy and tragedy. Always an expert at writing interesting female characters, this time he shows the women are the stronger force even while comatose!  The male leads are the ones suffering and dealing with loneliness.  Javier Camara as Benigno is both likeable and suberbly creepy as Alicia’s (Leonar Watling) caregiver.  Dario Grandinetti is stunning as Marco, whose stoic personality can reach dimensions most actors can’t touch. His scenes with Lydia (Rosario Flores) and Benigno are unlike anything ever seen on screen.

The film begins with a ballet piece featuring the amazing Pina Bausch (you should see the 2011 documentary Pina), and the rest of the film features similar pacing … each individual scene and even the film score create the feel of watching a ballet.  There is even a fantasy/faux silent movie sequence within the movie that will cause uneasiness and nervous laughter … while Almodovar again makes the point that the force of women can literally consume a man.

In addition to terrific performances by Camara and Grandinetti, the flashback sequences really allow Ms. Watling (as a fresh-faced dancer) and Ms. Flores (as a confident bullfighter) to prove why these men fell so hard.  One other actress adding interest is Geraldine Chaplin (daughter of Sir Charles) as Alicia’s dance instructor.  Her presence helps tie in the flashbacks and present tense.

While most writers tie up stories with a pretty bow, Almodovar purposefully challenges us to think and feel and dig into our own thoughts and beliefs. He is brilliant (and a bit annoying) with his persistence in making us work so hard. There are decisions coated in gray, rather than black and white.  There are characters who we want to like, but maybe/probably shouldn’t. Pedro’s use of color and texture is fascinating.  This is an example of a master filmmaker at the peak of his craft.  Sure, he has many other excellent films (Volver, All About My Mother, Broken Embraces), but if you only get one Almodovar, make it this one.

**NOTE: The priest in the wedding ceremony is played by Agustin Almodovar, Pedro’s brother and the film’s producer

watch the original trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fl8tyEIXXI

 


TMI (2-19-12)

February 19, 2012

TMI (Today’s Movie Info)

February: Director’s Month

 PEDRO ALMODOVAR was born, raised and lives in Spain.  He was unable to attend Film School because Franco had closed them all during his regime. Instead, he saved his money and bought a Super 8 camera, and taught himself how to direct by making short films. Pedro is known for writing strong, complex female characters for his films and often casts his mother and/or brother in supporting roles.  He has admitted that much of his writing comes from personal experiences … though not actually autobiographical in nature.  Pedro has become the most influential director from Spain since Luis Bunuel, and he frequently works with his country’s best actors: Carmen Maura, Antonio Banderas, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, and Gael Garcia Bernal. His history with Academy Awards is a bit mystifying: Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (2002, nominated for Best Foreign Language Film), All About my Mother (1999, won for Best Foreign Language Film), Talk to Her (2002, won for Best Screenplay, nominated for Best Director).  At least two other Almodovar films probably deserved nominations. On his reasons for making movies he once said “Cinema can fill in the empty spaces of your life and your loneliness.”  He recently announced that his next film will be the 2013 comedy, Los amantes pasajeros.


THE SKIN I LIVE IN (La piel que habito, sp)

November 5, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. I will readily admit to being a huge Pedro Almodovar fan. His films regularly place on my “Best Of” list every two years. I so admire his creativity, tough women characters, visual acumen and multi-dimensional stories. With Almodovar, we can bank on some type of dalliance with death, a brush with sexual deviance, non-linear time lines, plots that twist and turn incessantly, a color palette to make Frida Kahlo envious and psychological darkness that forces us to look inward. All of these elements are present here … yet somehow it doesn’t quite click.

 Antonio Banderas plays Dr. Robert Ledgard, a plastic surgeon revered for his work in face transplants. What the medical profession doesn’t know is that Dr. Ledgard takes the mad scientist label to whole new dimension. And he does it with the coolness reserved for the other side of the pillow. I will not go into details of the story other than to say Banderas’ character would make Dr. Frankenstein turn away in disgust.

Dr. Ledgard lives in a beautiful mansion with his protective housekeeper played by Almodovar veteran Marissa Paredes. He also has a live-in patient named Vera, played wonderfully by Elena Anaya. You will recognize Ms. Anaya if you took my advice and tracked down Mesrine parts 1 and 2. Support work is also provided by Jim Cornet as Vicente. I wish I could tell you more of the characters, but can’t without giving away too much.

 Dr. Legard and Vera are two of the most fascinating characters ever written by Almodovar, and the film is a twisted road to discomfort all wrapped up in a silky smooth picture frame. From a filmmaking perspective, I couldn’t rate it much higher. From an entertainment perspective, it would be near the bottom of the most interesting or desirable Almodovar films. Am I disappointed? Sure, a little. But not enough to override my excitement for the next film by Almodovar!

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: like me, you must see every Almodovar film OR you want to see Antonio Banderas in his most intense role in quite some time.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you have yet to enter the film realm of Almodovar … this is not the best for an introduction

watch the trailer:


BROKEN EMBRACES (2009)

January 3, 2010

 (12-26-09) Greetings again from the darkness. I have no qualms in admitting that I worship Pedro Almodovar as a filmmaker. His films have made me laugh (Volver), think (Talk to Her) and have yanked me out of my comfort zone (Bad Education). With Broken Embraces, the maestro has so many nuances and details brewing below his always stunning surface that I found myself really working to assemble the pieces as the film went along.

His fabulous muse, Penelope Cruz, is back and in full splendor. Pedro has always had a talent for exciting and fully developed female characters and here, both Ms. Cruz and Blanca Portillo are absolutely fascinating. The male lead is Mateo, a film director played by Lluis Homar (Bad Education). I won’t try to simplify the multi-faceted relationship and story lines other than to say this is a touch noir, with revenge, jealousy, obsession and of course, love – both full display and unrequited.

Sadly, many Americans will skip this one because of subtitles, but I hope it finds an audience on DVD. From a visual perspective, the color red abounds here … passion or blood? That’s the big question. There are many wonderful scenes that feature beautiful shots from Pedro, as well as some of the best dialogue he has ever written. From a film-making perspective, this one deserves multiple viewings – and will get it from me!