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The sound of Silence

EL PAÍS cinema critic Carlos Boyero is left distinctly unamused by Pedro Almodóvar’s new movie ‘Julieta’

A scene from Pedro Almodóvar’s new movie, ‘Julieta.’
A scene from Pedro Almodóvar’s new movie, ‘Julieta.’Manolo Pavón

They say that the original title of Julieta was going to be Silencio (nothing emphatic or recherché, as is usually the case with the highly meaningful work of its creator), but when he found out that Martin Scorsese had decided that his latest creation would also bear that title, Almodóvar switched to the name of the unhappy lover from Verona of Shakespearean fame.

After watching this movie – or cultural event or whatever it is; after witnessing its lavish marketing campaign and hearing over and over, to the point of tears, that here is a shining example of the most contained and profound Almodóvar, I am left wondering about the sublime merits of self-containment. In fact I wonder what the hell that’s even supposed to mean.

I am also trying to figure out what the hell the deer and the suicidal guy on the train have to do with anything

I consumed with noteworthy indifference a movie with allegedly intense subject matter, which I was forced to watch due to the cultivated and exuberant personality of its creator – even though for a long time now I’ve been wondering why I am always forced to watch this man’s films, yet nobody asks me why I ignore so many other movies made to be endured, despised and discarded.

And I reached the conclusion that the only thing this movie suggests to me is silence – not the kind of lyricism that Paul Simon found in the sounds of silence, but silence plain and simple. I am silent before a storyline that aims to speak in a stylized and contained language about devastating feelings, about the lifelong depression of a woman who is rejected and abandoned by her only daughter.

Hey, I even grasped the artistic reasons for the long shot: the very cultivated, very deep Almodóvar is comparing the devastation of this broken woman with the self-portrait of Lucian Freud, Sigmund’s permanently tormented grandson. Yet the film conveys nothing to me, either emotionally or artistically.

That’s the trouble with not believing anything you are seeing: neither the transparent feelings nor the underlying ones; neither what’s being said nor what’s being kept under wraps; neither the main characters nor the supporting ones; neither the presumably natural tone employed in the dialogue nor the hopeful past of the sweet professor of classic philosophy nor the half-anguished, half-desolate present of someone unable to comprehend the reasons why her main lifeline with existence has disappeared.

The ending to this tragic story is supposed to be moving. Since I never had children, I am unfamiliar with the feelings of parental love, yet I might have felt moved by the final conclusion, had it been presented to me with a powerful language. But I found it impossible to feel anything for the psychological descriptions, for the rambling story, for that final sentimental eruption meant to grab spectators by their guts, or for the musical touch featuring Chavela Vargas singing about the sorrows of the heart. Nor was I impressed with the unexpected, sober shot that ends Julieta, and which reminds me excessively of the final scene in Los exiliados románticos.

Everyone seems to agree that Emma Suárez has turned in a prodigious performance. I consider her to be an excellent actress and a very attractive woman, but in this case I don’t find her provoking at all, even if she keeps showing us how she is bleeding on the inside. There is no character in this movie that I find realistic, and some of them involuntarily make me laugh – like Rossy de Palma wearing a metal scouring pad on her head in a bid to symbolize the sinister housekeeper in Rebecca. Or the cancer-ridden ceramics artist, whose adulterous husband describes her with the embarrassing line: “There’s never been anything between us. We just fuck.”

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I also find myself blushing when a lady recalls her breakup with her girlfriend: “I went to New York to study design and she sought spiritual refuge in the Pyrenees. We met again years later in Como.” Or when the farmer explains to his daughter how they found the Moroccan woman who looks after her mother: “We met her at the sacred music festival in Fez.”

And I am also trying to figure out what the hell the deer and the suicidal guy on the train have to do with anything. And in the middle of my tedium, I am trying to imagine what Julieta might have been like if it had been intense or wild rather than contained. But there’s no need to punish oneself by choosing between bad and worse.

English version by Susana Urra.

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