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With: Emma Suarez, Adriana Ugarte, Daniel Grao, Inma Cuesta, Dario Grandinetti, Michelle Jenner, Pilar Castro, Nathalie Poza, Susi Sanchez, Joaquin Notario, Priscilla Delgado, Blanca Pares, Ariadna Matin, Rossy de Palma
Written by: Pedro Almodóvar, based on stories by Alice Munro
Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar
MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality/nudity
Language: Spanish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 99
Date: 12/21/2016

Julieta (2016)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Munro, Row, Row

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Spanish director Pedro Almodovar adapts three stories by Nobel-Prize winning writer Alice Munro, and though his sensibilities are quite different from her style, the result is surprisingly satisfying. With Julieta, Almodovar draws together three masterful connected tales from her 2004 collection Runaway, with some subtle changes.

Julieta begins in the present day, as the older, but still beautiful Julieta (Emma Suarez) prepares to move from Madrid to Portugal with her lover (Dario Grandinetti), when she runs into a face from her past; she receives news about her daughter, missing for a dozen years, and decides to stay put and wait to be contacted. She writes a letter, detailing the beginning of the story.

In flashback, a younger Julieta (Adriana Ugarte) meets her handsome, bearded fisherman husband, Xoan (Daniel Grao), who recently lost a wife. Julieta clashes with his nasty housekeeper (Rossy de Palma), but she marries him anyway. They have a daughter, and are happy, until the family suffers a terrible tragedy that ultimately leads to the daughter's departure. Can mother and daughter ever reunite?

Munro's gift is that she can create incredibly rich and detailed worlds within the limited space of a short story; her tales sometimes feel like entire novels. (Sarah Polley's Away from Her was based on another Munro story.) Almodovar isn't that subtle. He is perhaps, along with Todd Haynes, the world's leading student of Douglas Sirk, bold like a beating heart, with his giant swaths of red in every corner. But, somehow, Julieta emerges as a subtle soap opera, balanced between Munro's exquisite storytelling and Almodovar's more unsubtle style, a rewarding blend of anguished emotions and deep, intimate details.

The director keeps the histrionics to a minimum, and there's very little of the aggravatingly broad humor of his last film, I'm So Excited!. The exceptional performances by the older (Emma Suárez) and younger (Adriana Ugarte) Julietas are the icing on a colorful cake.

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