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Alfred Hitchcock Films Ranked

August 12, 2020

Decline to Fall: Is Hitchcock's Most Celebrated Film All That It's ...I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface with Alfred Hitchcock’s filmography, but as I’ve clocked up a dozen reviews, I thought it opportune to add Hitchcock to my directorial rankings project. Here they are, in reverse order. I’ll add to this as and when I write about more of his films.

12. Dial M for Murder (1954)

Dial M for Murder

Hitchcock is neutered by the fairly stagebound and workmanlike machinations of the blackmail plot, but there are one or two distinctive flourishes (when Grace Kelly’s Margot is sentenced to the death penalty) that offer some idiosyncrasy.

Full Review: https://pnabarro.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/dial-m-for-murder/

11. Suspicion (1941)

Image result for suspicion film

Hitchcock is well and truly in minor key here, mired in a retrospectively lame and sexist plot conceit. As ever with Hitchcock though, there is some wry satire of English class mores and one or two virtuoso cinematographic touches.

Full Review: https://pnabarro.wordpress.com/2018/04/22/suspicion/

10. To Catch a Thief (1955)

To Catch a Thief(film, 2 August 1955) starring Grace Kelly and Cary Grant -  ELEGANCEPEDIA

It has a hokum plotline, but is an example of classy, classic Hollywood cinema at its best. VistaVision and Technicolour immemorialise Grace Kelly’s sheer star quality here.

Full Review: https://pnabarro.wordpress.com/2019/07/26/to-catch-a-thief/

9. The Lady Vanishes (1938)

The Lady Vanishes (1938) | BFI

An archetypal situational comedy-thriller by Hitchcock. It is most enjoyable for its riotous piss-take of English social types.

Full Review: https://pnabarro.wordpress.com/2010/09/05/the-lady-vanishes/

8. The 39 Steps (1935)

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One of Hitchcock’s earliest talkies and most notable for being one of his purest action-thriller films that also features some powerful horror movie tropes too.

Full Review: https://pnabarro.wordpress.com/2010/09/11/the-39-steps/

7. Notorious (1946)

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Perhaps not Hitchcock’s most powerful narrative, but it’s one of his most beautiful films, where the chiaroscuro cinematography, Edith Head’s beautiful costumes, and Ingrid Bergman’s sheer star quality, elevate the material.

Full Review: https://pnabarro.wordpress.com/2016/08/09/notorious/

6. Rebecca (1940)

Rebecca (1940) | BFI

Featuring one of the most famous opening voiceovers in film history, this is also one of the great gothic thrillers – a worthy entrant for Hitchcock into the Hollywood firmament.

Full Review: https://pnabarro.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/rebecca/

5. Strangers on a Train (1951)

strangers on a train / the talented mr. ripley

A narrative that veers between the gripping and preposterous, but it features Hitchcock at his most virtuoso. Each scene has some kernel of cinematographic flair.

Full Review: https://pnabarro.wordpress.com/2010/09/09/strangers-on-a-train/

4. The Birds (1963)

Image result for the birds film

A hokum narrative told absolutely brilliantly. A thinking person’s horror and contingency film. A filmmaker in absolute command of his craft.

Full Review: https://pnabarro.wordpress.com/2019/10/13/the-birds/

3. Rear Window (1954)

rear-window-james-stewa-008.jpg (300×180)

It took three viewings for me to fully get and fall in love with Rear Window, but it’s right up there with Hitchcock’s greatest films. One of Hitchcock’s meta-discourses on looking and narrating, and featuring one of the great cinematic entrances when Grace Kelly enters James Stewart’s apartment.

Full Review: https://pnabarro.wordpress.com/2016/05/09/rear-window/

2. Psycho (1960)

Image result for psycho film

Perhaps the most purely perfect piece of expressionistic filmmaking I have ever seen. Has a director ever intrinsically understood the medium better than Hitchcock?

Full Review: https://pnabarro.wordpress.com/2019/10/05/psycho/

1.Vertigo (1958)

V%C3%A9rtigo.jpg (320×180)

Maybe not quite as perfect as Psycho, but it gains the top spot by being that touch more beguiling, mysterious and uncanny. A mesmeric parable of faustian self-deception and of dreams unravelling into nightmares.

Full Review: https://pnabarro.wordpress.com/2016/04/17/vertigo/

Leave No Trace

August 12, 2020

Leave No Trace (2018)
Director: Debra Granik
Actors: Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie, Jeff Kober

Wheels reviews the new film from the writer/director of WINTER'S ...

Synopsis: PTSD-suffering army veteran, Will (Ben Foster), lives off the land in a Portland forest with his teenage daughter, Tom (Thomasin McKenzie). They are apprehended by authorities and moved to an Oregon community where Will is put to work and Tom is sent to school, but Will’s desire to return to a life away from people – and Tom’s increasing need for more social interaction – creates a growing rift between them.

Review: Part eco-parable, part-thesis on parenting, and part-ode to the eternal bonds of love between a father and daughter, Leave No Trace is another directorial tour de force from Debra Granik – a filmmaker who instinctively knows how to counterbalance and alchemise the dramatic, cinematographic and anthropological ingredients of her fables so acutely. In fact, it wouldn’t be hyperbole to propose Leave No Trace as one of the most sincere and tonally perfect of American films in recent history.

Granik’s films are often marked out for their authenticity and sense of empathy for their marginalised protagonists, but arguably her greater skill is in her mastery of dramatic rhetoric. I would argue that this is an immensely profound and emotional film, yet Granik honours that import without resorting to the use of a melodramatic music score, without encouraging demonstrative character acting, and without ventriloquising the story’s powerful themes in her adapted screenplay.

The opening to the film is particularly impressive, as we’re thrust into Will and Tom’s routine in their Oregon wilderness. The quietude and harmony of their lifestyle and the co-dependency of their relationship is subtly imprinted, and it’s in the length of this montage or snapshot (some 20 minutes or so) that Granik communicates Will and Tom’s oneness with their surroundings – the elemental nature of their routines around starting fires, fetching wood, and preparing food, conveying their state as this transient form of perfection at odds with the realities of the outside world and Tom’s own growing maturity.

The shock and disruption to Will and Tom’s gentle routine when they necessarily walk into the metropolis of Portland to purchase provisions is as much ours as it is theirs. The city looks unnatural and otherworldly, especially when they take a cable car ride across the city skyline, and Granik is able to cast this detached, anthropological perspective over other parts of the film. Primarily, this fits into the film’s function as part eco-parable, with the concept of development and market values being anthropomorphised through machines that smash through the squatters’ park in the Portland forest, and the helicopters that come to claim the commodified and wrapped up Christmas trees at Will and Tom’s later farm residence.

It is perhaps the human drama that is most powerful in Leave No Trace though. Even in the opening, ‘edenic’ section, there are harbingers that allude to the fragility of Will and Tom’s idyll: Tom continually remarks on her hunger, and the challenge in even lighting a fire and generating heat suggests that the lure of civilisation – particularly to a curious and untainted young girl like Tom – may soon prove irresistible.

This gradual rift between father and daughter is beautifully handled by Granik. There’s no soapy conflict to inorganically draw out their eventual separation, just an acknowledgement that their generational difference and separate pathologies (Will is a PTSD-suffering veteran who wants no part in society, while Tom is an evenly-balanced, untraumatised teenager desperate for social interaction) will gradually engender a parting. That parting is the crowning glory of Granik’s dramatic craft here. In a scene of such faultless authenticity and aching emotionality, Tom makes the immeasurably moving gesture of deciding not to follow her father on his latest escape into the wilderness. It’s a triumph of quite brilliant acting from Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie, and the clever choreographic touch of Granik in making Tom walk backwards from her parting with her father (so, in a sense, she is still looking at him, braving and soaking up the profound decision she has just made) is the coup de grace of this most poignant of films. (August 2020)

Legally Blonde

August 10, 2020

Legally Blonde (2001)
Director: Robert Luketic
Actors: Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair

The Everlasting Sunshine of 'Legally Blonde'

Synopsis: California sorority girl, Elle Wood (Reese Witherspoon), is dumped by her aspiring lawyer of a boyfriend for not matching the profile of a serious life partner for him. Chastened by the rejection and determined to win him back, Elle somehow manages to follow him to Harvard Law School and win a place on the course. Elle’s perspective and priorities however change over the course of the programme.

Review: It may be an unoriginal observation, but Legally Blonde really does intentionally or unintentionally (take your pick) take its cue from Amy Heckerling’s Clueless of six years’ previous in setting up this thesis of the seemingly dumb blonde who defies conventions to assert herself in the adult world. It’s like a Clueless of the Ivy League and law worlds in many respects, and if understood from that fairly fanciful, almost fablistic, perspective, it’s hard to begrudge the journey of feelgood fun and sly humour that the narrative takes you on. There’s also a not entirely unperceptive idea unearthed by Legally Blonde which posits that character, temperament and disposition – even more than pure educational attainment – are perhaps the greater indicators for aptitude in a profession. Elle’s assiduousness, for example, is ideally suited to practising law.

First and foremost though, Legally Blonde is a crowd-pleasing, girl’s own fantasia of self-empowerment. The cartoonish bubblegum aesthetic of the opening credits perfectly sets up this idea of Elle’s inculcation by superficiality and aesthetics, but also offers clues as to her professional potential as a woman of drive with a real details-oriented approach to life. Reese Witherspoon carries the film’s duality as both popcorn confection and crafty morality tale with her beaming presence and charisma that underlies a steely edge. The ensemble around Witherspoon also embellishes the colourful nature of the story, from Selma Blair’s excellent turn as Elle’s physical and temperamental foil, Vivian, to Oz Perkins as the socially awkward law student with some of the most expressively weird eyes I’ve seen in cinema. (August 2020)

Greyhound

August 8, 2020

Greyhound (2020)
Director: Aaron Schneider
Actors: Tom Hanks, Stephen Graham, Elisabeth Shue

Greyhound (2020) - IMDb

Synopsis: Commander Ernest Krause (Tom Hanks) is on his first mission of the Second World War, leading a convoy of allied ships across the precarious ‘black pit’ region of the north Atlantic where they are out of protective air cover range and have to run the gauntlet of German U-boats.

Review: You can see what Tom Hanks was trying to do with Greyhound. He was clearly positioning it as something of a pared down, old-fashioned war movie, not overly preachy in its politics and largely avoiding grand psychological flourishes in its characterisation, preferring instead to view the men on the basis of their professional functionality and worth to the collective.

In many respects, Greyhound comes in the slipstream of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk of three years’ previous. Both films focus on the minutiae of warfare, recreating its sensorial realism, as well as the themes of time and contingency. What, unfortunately, Greyhound mistakes is this procedural aesthetic for something genuinely dramatic and taut. It’s almost as if the film’s bleak palette that accentuates the sombreness and danger of the Atlantic Ocean battleground is a dramaturgical void that sucks out any real life from the story.

And Hanks the screenwriter can’t resist a little nibble from the cake of narrative convention with the rather hackneyed subplot about his character’s stoical devotion to the memory of his woman, Elisabeth Shue’s Evelyn Frechette, and a reminder that he is a very Christian man – perhaps inadvertently betraying the ‘sanctity of the everyman’ thesis that is so prominent in not only this film, but in much of Hanks’ cinematic career. (August 2020)

Dirty Dancing

August 8, 2020

Dirty Dancing (1987)
Director: Emile Ardolino
Actors: Jennifer Grey, Patrick Swayze, Jerry Orbach

Dirty Dancing: Behind-The-Scenes Of An 80s Movie Classic

Synopsis: Baby (Jennifer Grey) falls in love with her lower-class dance instructor, Johnny (Patrick Swayze), during a family summer vacation at a lakeside resort in upstate New York.

Review: The reception of Dirty Dancing has become so inextricable from its status as a real fan favourite and a huge slice of ’80s Hollywood nostalgia, that I felt it was worth delving into the actual worth of the film itself, especially as I’ve somehow managed to avoid watching it during my many years on this planet thus far.

Probably the most striking aspect to me, and something I’ve felt when revisiting other ’80s classics (Beverly Hills Cop being another such example) is just how flimsy the dramatic construct is around what could politely be described as a sequence of music video interludes. The story is soapy, with cartoonish characters and predictable twists and arcs you can spot a mile off. The film’s inelegance is only really permissible in the sense that its heart is in the right place regarding its politics: it’s essentially a critique of class bigotry, patriarchy, and imagines its 1963 social setting as a microcosm of ’50s conservative America rubbing up against the upcoming counter-culture phase, post the assassination of JFK.

There is a classical simplicity to the story I guess, but it’s really a movie made for the MTV generation. The film exists in the main for a handful of seductively lit and framed dance sequences that aestheticise Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze’s bodies and physical chemistry. And perhaps the film’s commercial intentions are betrayed in the famous climax when the 1963 period verisimilitude is jettisoned so Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes’ contemporary ‘I’ve Had the Time of My Life’ can play out over Grey and Swayze’s defiant dance. (August 2020)

89

August 8, 2020

89 (2017)
Director: Dave Stewart

89 review – on-the-ball doc revisits Arsenal's last-minute glory ...

Synopsis: A collection of footballers from Arsenal’s title winning season of 1988-89 recall their triumph – in particular, the gripping 2-0 win at Liverpool in the final match of the season.

Review: There is potential bias here, considering I’m an Arsenal fan, but this is a genuinely illuminating football documentary, with something in it for the die-hard Arsenal fan (especially one who can recall the drama of the last minute victory at Anfield in May 1989) as well as a wider football fan, due to the intrigue of English football circa-1989 being on the precipice of the stratospheric transformation brought about by the advent of the Premier League in 1992.

With 30 years’ perspective, it is perhaps the canvas of top flight football in 1989 that resonates the most. In some respects, the late ’80s are the lost period in English football: coming in between the all conquering ’70s and early/mid-’80s pomp of English sides in European competition, and three years before the Premier League brought about the commercial, global brand we would recognise today. This is evident in the fact that of the 11 Arsenal players taking the field for their final-day crunch clash against reigning champions Liverpool, 10 of them were Englishman, and the sole foreigner was an Irishman (David O’Leary). This gritty version of Arsenal under George Graham came, of course, just a matter of years before Arsène Wenger famously transformed and continentalised Arsenal, culminating in modern English football’s only unbeaten English top-flight league season in 2003-04.

The documentary itself is expertly crafted. It creates a nice conceit of getting the members of the team together for a drink and a reminiscence in a London bar some 28 years after the famous match, and the documentary flits between the recollections and bantering of the players, to a whistlestop tour of Arsenal’s season, lingering in the main on Arsenal’s final league game where they had the seemingly impossible task of needing to win at Liverpool by two clear goals to snatch the title from the Reds’ grasp.

Sometimes footballers are not the most engaging of interviewees, but the talking heads format here is rewarded by this Arsenal side being a reasonably erudite collection of individuals (Lee Dixon, Alan Smith, Steve Bould, Nigel Winterburn, even Tony Adams). Perhaps my favourite anecdote, and one that contrasts so markedly to the huge distance between footballer and supporter that now exists, is when the triumphant Arsenal side went straight from their coach journey back to London after the win to celebrate in a local Highbury pub with many Arsenal fans. It seems a world away from the carefully calibrated brand management of the modern footballer, and stands as testament to the merits of this documentary as a lovely little detour into a famous moment of English football history from yesteryear. (August 2020)

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

July 7, 2020

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
Director: Guy Ritchie
Actors: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Review | Den of Geek

Synopsis: Top US spy, Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill), teams up with his KGB rival, Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), to prevent a murky criminal organisation from gaining access to a nuclear bomb.

Review: In a career that has veered dramatically in such a comparatively short period of time from the acclaim and adulation that came with his first two films Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, to the lows and critical derision that immediately followed with Swept Away and Revolver, it’s fair to say that Guy Ritchie’s latest directorial effort, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., is unquestionably his least controversial film to date. Coming very much in the line of Ritchie’s recent, confidently handled Hollywoodisation of the Sherlock Holmes brand in Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, it’s clear Ritchie is repositioning himself as a more reliable genre director, with just a minor imprint of the tricksy signature from his first handful of films.

Ritchie’s new style makes The Man from U.N.C.L.E. thoroughly competent and inoffensive, but also just a touch anomalous. Mirroring the ambience of his suave lead character, Henry Cavill’s Napoleon Solo, Ritchie’s direction is so laid back – especially for a thriller – that it drains the piece of any real tension or dread. Of course, that’s partly the point as this is obviously a pastiche of those ’60s crime capers, of which the same-titled television show on which this is based was just one example. Therefore, Ritchie isn’t on entirely unfamiliar ground and doesn’t need a second invite to indulge in the cool retro stylistics that the subject matter allows. He really goes to town on the costumes, the vintage period design, while also approximating the panavision and deep focus tropes of the movie-making of that era.

The slightly problematic lack of tension is arguably most apparent in the main performances. Henry Cavill affects that preppy drawl British actors often use when playing Americans (Christian Bale in American Psycho and Hugh Laurie in the television series House are two such cases), but where Cavill is trying to play cool and assured, it just comes across as mannered and slightly flat. I wonder whether Ritchie might have been better served swapping his two lead men around, and having Armie Hammer play the suave American, and let Cavill’s implacable stiffness characterise the stern KGB agent?

Still, Ritchie does handle the light culture comedy at the heart of the scenario nicely enough. The film’s opening cleverly employs a frenetic action sequence to introduce us to the three main characters and their special talents and quirks; most films would opt for more stolid exposition. There are also some droll sight gags such as when Solo cracks into some bread and wine while Kuryakin’s frenetic boat chase takes place in the background, and when both men debate what to do with the scientist they’ve just tied to an electric chair, failing to realise that the chair is in fact working and that the scientist is already dead and up in flames just behind their turned backs.

One can see why there wasn’t enough ‘je ne sais quoi’ here to justify the extending of this world into a sequel – although the film did make a small box office profit – but as evidence of Ritchie’s new position as one of the better genre directors around, it’s a diverting confection and worth a visit. (July 2020)

Pedro Almodóvar Films Ranked

July 2, 2020

I’m into double figures for Pedro Almodóvar films, so I thought it high time to add him to my directorial rankings series. There’s clearly plenty more of his films to see, but judging by my rankings, I’m drawn more to his mature, august work over his earlier fondness for farce.

10. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989)

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (rewatch) | Martin Teller's Movie Reviews

A hideously dated farce that can’t hide behind its quirky and colourful tone a fundamentally unpleasant Stockholm Syndrome conceit that whiffs of misogyny.

Full Review: https://pnabarro.wordpress.com/2020/07/01/tie-me-up-tie-me-down/

9. Julieta (2016)

Julieta 2016, directed by Pedro Almodóvar | Film review

Strong individual moments cannot compensate for a narrative that’s a bit of a mess and a half-hearted attempt to pay homage to Hitchcock and gothic melodramas of yore.

Full Review: https://pnabarro.wordpress.com/2020/06/30/julieta/

8. Live Flesh (1997)

Live Flesh (1997) directed by Pedro Almodóvar • Reviews, film + ...

An overly contrived riff on Almodóvar’s hallmark interest in melodrama and bodies. As with Julieta, there are good individual moments that fail to cohere into a satisfying whole.

Full Review: https://pnabarro.wordpress.com/2010/09/05/live-flesh/

7. Broken Embraces (2009)

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An archetypal Almodóvar film content-wise and structurally. References to Hitchcock and women’s pictures are woven around a complex tale of ardour and loss amid the film industry.

Full Review: https://pnabarro.wordpress.com/2010/08/24/broken-embraces/

6. Volver (2006)

Volver | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Alongside All About My Mother, this is Almodóvar’s most open paean to the inherent fortitude of women. It may lack the complexity and compelling slipperiness of some of Almodóvar’s films focused on male or trans identity, but it’s a heartwarming fable with a sly ghostly twist.

5. The Skin I Live In (2011)

The-Skin-I-Live-In-300x180.jpg (300×180)

Almodóvar’s works straddle a fine line between the transgressive and the exploitative, and never was that more acutely navigated than with his kidnapping and gender change thriller, The Skin I Live In. I’m still on the fence about this one, but it grew on me the second time I saw it.

Full Review: https://pnabarro.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/the-skin-i-live-in/

4. Talk to Her (2002)

Talk To Her Review | SBS Movies

Another Almodóvar film with a theoretically prurient scenario, but that cleverly three-dimensionalises characters and practices that might not seem hugely sympathetic on face value. One of his best films about ardour, the pain of desire, and featuring some of Almodóvar’s best use of emotive close up.

3. Pain and Glory (2019)

Film Review: Pain and Glory – SLUG Magazine

A mature film befitting its ageing personnel and reflective tone. It’s a lovely, wise work that eschews the fallacy of epiphany for a more truthful and elegiac view of late-life growth.

Full Review: https://pnabarro.wordpress.com/2019/10/29/pain-and-glory/

2. All About My Mother (1999)

All About My Mother: Matriarchal Society | The Current | The ...

A perfect marriage of Almodóvar’s career-long love of homage (this one packs in All About Eve, Opening Night, and the play ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’) with a hugely emotive and sincere narrative about mothering and womanhood in all their different forms.

Full Review: https://pnabarro.wordpress.com/2010/08/24/all-about-my-mother/

1. Bad Education (2004)

Bad Education movie review & film summary (2004) | Roger Ebert

Almodóvar switched his focus to male identity, and, as a result, crafted a compelling and murkily complex film. Capitalising on the lustre of newfound superstar, Gael García Bernal, Almodóvar took the viewer on an almost Faustian journey to reveal the true fate of the mythical Ignacio at the centre of the narrative.

**Please note, I have employed some of the same words I used on my Almodóvar retrospective with One Room With a View last year. Article here if you want to read more:  https://oneroomwithaview.com/2019/08/21/a-beginners-guide-to-pedro-almodovar/

(July 2020)

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!

July 1, 2020

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989)
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Actors: Victoria Abril, Antonio Banderas, Loles León

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (rewatch) | Martin Teller's Movie Reviews

Synopsis: Ricky (Antonio Banderas) leaves a mental institute and proceeds to kidnap Mariana (Victoria Abril) on the basis that she won’t be freed until she falls in love with him.

Review: This film hasn’t aged at all well and really does, especially in light of the #metoo movement, look like an unfortunate anomaly in the otherwise compassionate and humane filmography of Pedro Almodóvar.

The film has a number of problems, not the least of which is its murky attitude towards its story of a mentally unhinged male character, Ricky, kidnapping his female idol, Mariana, until she will fall in love with him. There are ways that Almodóvar tries to navigate the inherent immorality of the scenario, but it never really justifies the end-result of Mariana actually falling for Ricky, and the film, in essence, valorising Ricky’s quest. Yes, Almodóvar places this within a screwball context, some removes from concrete reality; yes, Almodóvar is riffing on the phenomenon of Stockholm syndrome; yes, Almodóvar creates some greater context and pathos for Ricky’s core personal trauma that leads him to this extreme tactic; and yes, he does try to find the admirable in Ricky’s strange sense of ardency for Mariana. All these factors though do not negate that Almodóvar is trying to dramatise and make humorous an unequivocally unpleasant act.

Even more damning is that in its lighter guise as a theatrical farce (it could easily pass off as a play), it just isn’t that funny. You can spot the conceits a mile off, and the scrapes and saucy wordplay taking place on ageing Máximo’s crazy B-movie film set aren’t that amusing. It doesn’t help that Máximo’s sexist jokes (that Almodóvar is presenting as quirky little foibles from a likeable old rogue) are distinctly uncomfortable to watch now as well. (July 2020)

Julieta

June 30, 2020

Julieta (2016)
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Actors: Adriana Ugarte, Emma Suárez, Darío Grandinetti

Julieta 2016, directed by Pedro Almodóvar | Film review

Synopsis: Julieta (Emma Suárez) recalls the events that led her younger self (Adriana Ugarte) to first conceive then raise her daughter, Antía, before becoming estranged from her when Antía ran away at the age of 18.

Review: There are lovely individual moments and sentiments in Pedro Almodóvar’s Julieta, but these touches fail to cohere into a satisfying whole, and Almodóvar seems particularly hamstrung by saddling himself with such a plotty and sensational narrative that he’s tried to cram into a 90-minute running time.

A common feature of Almodóvar’s work is how many of his story’s key events play off-narrative, off-camera, and whereas it is strangely permissible in works like All About My Mother where we fast-forward to a key character’s funeral, in Julieta these contrivances and ellipses feel soapy and carry less import. The biographical conceit of Xoan having a comatose wife feels of limited thematic relevance, and many of the characters and narrative occurrences play out as flat. Even one of Almodóvar’s main conceits with Julieta in making it somewhat of a homage to Hitchcock and the gothic melodrama – especially the spell where Julieta lives with Xoan in Galicia which has a whiff of Rebecca in Julieta’s presence as the ‘second wife’ and the imposing Mrs Danvers-style figure – feels half-hearted and isn’t persisted with as Almodóvar switches tones and character functions constantly.

There are some great little touches amid the narrative muddle though. It’s one of Almodóvar’s better theses on the power of longing and looking, especially between mothers and daughters. There’s a subtly moving scene where Julieta lies in bed with her ailing mother, and the mother wakes up and momentarily recognises her daughter before looking over to see her granddaughter (Julieta’s infant daughter) sleeping in a cot beside them.

Incidentally, there is also one of the best conceits I’ve seen in a film regarding the time-lapse of different actors playing a character (my favourite is still Terence Davies’ transition from the adolescent Emily Dickinson to the adult incarnation in A Quiet Passion). Julieta is grieving the recent death of her husband, and is wrapped tenderly in towels by her daughter as she emerges from a bath. As the towels are removed from Julieta’s face, it is no longer the young Adriana Ugarte playing the part, but the older Emma Suárez: the transition poetically emphasising the pained legacy that Julieta carries into her middle-aged years. (June 2020)