This Spanish language film starring Emma Suarez and Adriana Ugarte is one of Pedro Almodóvar’s more serious offerings and he does serious really well.
The story is told as a letter being written by a widow to her estranged daughter. As we meet Julieta’s family and learn of her daughter’s children, we see how each act of pulling away and each loss has an echo in another generation.
For a film without guns, there is a high body count here but you never see the deaths, just the seismic shifts caused by each one.
Over a span of maybe thirty years Julieta transforms from a happy young teacher then joyful young wife and mum to a widow lost in a deep depression. She starts to reclaim a life for herself and the future looks promising when her daughter decides to abandon plans to go to university and instead cuts contact with Julieta and disappears. Once again Julieta crashes into despair and then rebuilds herself. As she is about to move to a new country to start a new life with her new boyfriend, a chance meeting with one of her daughter’s friends sends her into a downward spiral and she makes a last desperate bid to find her daughter.
Refreshingly for a film about a widow, the new boyfriend does not solve the problem. Typically for an Almodóvar film, the women make things happen and the men are more of an aside.
In the end we see that the film has not been about grief but about the destructive force of guilt. That makes it optimistic because while we can’t do much about the amount of occasions for grief that life throws at us, we do have the possibility of tackling the misunderstanding that are invariably at the heart of the most corrosive attacks of guilt.
This is straight drama. There are no jokes and few lighter moments but it ends on a hopeful note for Julieta and her daughter.
First published in Issue 15