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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Sunday, April 14, 2024

On Location: Spain

In an early and pivotal scene in Pedro Almodóvar’s “Julieta” (2016), the young version of the titular character (Adriana Ugarte) rebuffs a conversation with an older man on a train. As she leaves and strikes up a conversation with fisherman Xoan (Daniel Grao), the train stops suddenly. With a terrible feeling in the pit of her stomach, Julieta exits the train and looks ahead in the snowy countryside, where, as she feared, the older man she spurned has committed suicide. Falling into hysterics, she is comforted by Xoan. They soon have sex on the train, starting a relationship that eventually leads to marriage and a daughter.

The scene on the train is the beginning of the key theme in “Julieta,” one in which women like Julieta are conditioned by societal norms to blame themselves for events beyond their control. In particular, the film, which is based on stories by Alice Munro, deals with three key instances in which a seemingly innocuous interpersonal action Julieta takes leads to a death, two literally and one metaphorically. The film opens with middle-aged Julieta (Emma Suárez) during a chance encounter in Madrid with her estranged daughter Antía’s best friend Beatriz (Michelle Jenner). This leads her to cancel her plans to move to Portugal with her boyfriend Lorenzo (Dario Grandinetti) and move into the apartment she lived in with Antía before their estrangement, pledging to finally tell Antía all the circumstances that led to it.

Almodóvar is one of the foremost storytellers about women in cinema, and the tale he weaves about Julieta and her tempestuous relationships with her husband and daughter delicately touches on a number of ways in which women come up against increasingly complex personal struggles. In the second death in the film, young Julieta is living with Xoan in a picturesque Basque fishing village with Antía in tow. There, their idyllic life is complicated by a number of issues, most significantly Xoan’s supposed infidelity—which Julieta is goaded into believing by their housekeeper Marian (Rossy de Palma)—and disagreements over how to raise Antía. Finally, they have a blowout argument about Xoan’s relationship with their friend, artist Ava (Inma Cuesta). Xoan takes his boat out in a storm to blow off steam and is killed.

The third and final death is more difficult to process. Julieta, shattered by her husband's death and her guilt, moves to Madrid, where Antía and Beatriz look after her and take charge of the household. When Antía turns 18, she goes to a spiritual retreat and cuts off all contact with Julieta. However, it is left to the audience to deduce exactly who has died in a metaphorical sense. As Julieta ages into middle age in one shot, the young, vibrant woman she once was is instantly replaced by a reeling soul, devastated by loss. In the same sense, Antía loses the mother she once had and is forced to take on a leadership role herself. For Almodóvar’s women, the complexity of their loss becomes too overwhelming for them to have a relationship with each other.