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In "Julieta," the Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar is back in top form, doing what he does best: exploring the frayed bonds between mother and daughter.
Julieta (Emma Suárez) is a 50-ish woman living in Madrid, but about to move to Portugal with her boyfriend, Lorenzo (Dario Grandinetti), an art critic. On the street, she has a chance encounter with Beatriz (Michelle Jenner), once best friends with Julieta's daughter Antía and Beatriz tells Julieta that she ran into Antía recently in Italy. This news hits Julieta hard, and she suddenly decides to stay in Madrid and break off her relationship with Lorenzo.
Julieta begins to fill a journal with a long, confessional letter to Antía, telling her all the things she hid from her as a child. It begins with a young Julieta (played by Adriana Ugarte), a classics teacher, on a train and meeting Xoan (Daniel Grao), a hunky fisherman whose wife has been in a coma for five years. Their connection is immediate, and they make passionate love on the train.
When Xoan invites Julieta to his oceanside village, she responds immediately. Once there, she learns from Xoan's stern housekeeper, Marian (played by Almodóvar regular Rossy de Palma), that his wife is dead, and he's keeping company with Ava (Inma Cuesta), a sensuous sculptor. Julieta and Xoan resume their relationship, and Antía is born not long after.
Years later, while Antía (played as a youth by Priscilla Delgado) is away at camp, Julieta and Xoan have an argument regarding Xoan's occasional dalliances with Ava that leads to a tragic outcome. Antía (played in later years by Blanca Parés) tries to help Julieta through grief and depression, but ultimately breaks from her mother and cuts off contact.
Almodóvar adapts this tale from three interconnected short stories by the Nobel laureate Alice Munro ("Chance," "Soon" and "Silence," from her 2004 collection "Runaway"). It's a perfect meeting of mind and heart, as Almodóvar distills Munro's writing into an emotional film where the dialogue is crisp and the images luxuriously evocative.
Most perfect of all are the paired performances by Suárez and Ugarte, who match up seamlessly to the span of Julieta's life as youthful passion evolves into middle-aged regret.
As he did with "Volver" and "All About My Mother," Almodóvar finds in "Julieta" some rich material in the mother-daughter relationship in the way a mother sees herself in her daughter's face, and the guilt a mother feels over actions taken or not taken. The results are touching, heartbreaking and beautiful.
A woman looks back on her relationship with her daughter in Pedro Almovódar's heartbreakingly beautiful drama.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens Friday, Feb. 3.
Rating • R for some sexuality and nudity.
Running time • 99 minutes; in Spanish with subtitles.