Do you prefer to have your cinematic guilt and grief delivered with a Boston accent? If so, you might enjoy the Oscar-nominated Manchester by the Sea. (Well, maybe “enjoy” is the wrong verb, since Jimmy Fallon accurately described it as “the only thing from 2016 that was more depressing than 2016.”)
If, on the other hand, you prefer to have your guilt and grief delivered in Spanish—and leavened with a faint ray of hope—you might try Pedro Almodovar’s Julieta. It’s not a great film, and it’s certainly not the director’s best, but it does have its charms.
Fans of Almodovar (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) won’t be surprised to learn that the central character is a woman going through a very rough time. They also won’t be shocked to discover that the film shows the influence of an earlier filmmaker—in this case, Alfred Hitchcock. Many scenes are tinged with a feeling of ominousness that’s reinforced by Alberto Iglesias’s relentlessly Hitchcockian score.
Beyond the music and mood, however, there’s little resemblance between the two filmmakers. While Hitchcock’s heroines typically are threatened by outside forces, Julieta is tormented by self-recriminations over past actions and inactions. Oh, and she’s also tormented by a daughter’s callousness, something mothers across the world can probably relate to.
We first meet Julieta (Emma Suarez) when she’s a middle-aged woman planning to move from Madrid to Portugal with her doting lover, Lorenzo (Dario Grandinetti). Then she runs into a past acquaintance and learns that her estranged daughter, Antia, has been seen and may be returning to Madrid.
Instantly, and with no explanation, Julieta drops her plans with Lorenzo and moves back into the building where she and Antia once lived. She’s clearly willing to give up guaranteed happiness in return for the possibility that her daughter wants to find her and seek a long-awaited reconciliation.
The rest of the film recounts the decades’ worth of developments that led her to this juncture. It begins by introducing us to a younger version of Julieta (Adriana Ugarte) and revisiting the fateful night on a train when she met a handsome fisherman named Xoan (Daniel Grao).
Viewers naturally will assume the prolonged flashback will lead to a pivotal event that explains the contemporary Julieta’s misery. But, perhaps because Almodovar based his tale on three short stories by Alice Munro, the journey is more episodic in nature. Yes, there’s a shocking tragedy, but it’s mixed in with smaller trials and disappointments, all of which add to Julieta’s growing depression.
In other words, don’t expect the kind of apocalyptic revelation that explains the central character’s misery in Manchester by the Sea. Almodovar takes a more nuanced approach and, as a result, requires a bit more patience from his viewers. In exchange, he rewards them with a handsome film filled with masterful performances.
More importantly, he leaves them with something completely absent from Manchester: a reason for optimism.
Rating: 3½ stars (out of 5)
Julieta (rated R) opens Friday (Feb. 3) at the Gateway Film Center.
Doc takes up James Baldwin’s unfinished task
Last month’s announcement of the Academy Awards nominees revealed a list that is far more diverse than its 2016 counterpart. And that diversity extends beyond major categories such as Best Picture.
Among the nominees for Best Documentary Feature, for example, three of the five focus on African-American issues: OJ: Made in America, 13th and a film that will soon make its way to Columbus: I Am Not Your Negro.
Directed by Raoul Peck and narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, the documentary is inspired by a manuscript author James Baldwin began in 1979 to commemorate the deaths of friends and civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. The manuscript remained unfinished when Baldwin died in 1987, though the film doesn’t explain why. Perhaps he found the subject too painful.
Then again, Baldwin might have found it simply too big, as his purpose apparently was to explain the scourge of racism that the three martyrs died fighting. Peck attempts to pick up where Baldwin left off by juxtaposing his words with scenes from popular culture that illustrate his points. Also included are Baldwin speeches and filmed interviews, along with more recent news footage that proves racism remains a clear and present danger.
Though less compelling than one of its Oscar competitors, Ava DuVernay’s 13th, I Am Not Your Negro is an enlightening homage to one of the civil rights movement’s most thoughtful voices.
Rating: 3½ stars (out of 5)
I Am Not Your Negro (PG-13) will be screened at 7 p.m. Feb. 16-17 and 4 and 7 p.m. Feb. 18 at the Wexner Center for the Arts. For details, visit wexarts.org.