Middle-aged Julieta (Emma Suarez) has been living in Madrid for years, but has been persuaded by her boyfriend Lorenzo (Darío Grandinetti) to move to Portugal to get away from a way of life that has dragged her into depression. However the day she has packed up her belongings she is out on the street and by chance bumps into Béatriz (Michelle Jenner), an old friend of her daughter Antia - the daughter she has not seen in well over a decade, and though Béatriz cannot hang around, Julieta garners enough information about her to learn she is still alive and what location she is in. With that, she makes up her mind, there's no way she is heading off to Portugal when there's a chance Antia might contact her again...
But has Julieta wasted her life waiting for someone who will never come back to her, or is there a possibility that her wait has not been in vain? That was just one of the questions posed by writer and director Pedro Almodóvar's adaptation of three Alice Munro short stories; those were set in Canada, and he had planned to shoot there with Meryl Streep as his leading lady in his first English language movie, but nerves got the better of him and he pulled out, opting instead to make the project in his native Spain as usual. If the thought of Almodóvar's tales set anywhere else was unthinkable to you, you would be very pleased to see he had resisted straying from his comfort zone too far.
If, however, you thought it might be nice to see him challenging himself with a sort of experiment, then you would be disappointed, though you could perceive his logic, as after all this was a strong storyline and to mess it up because he had lost his bearings in a different language and continent would have been not simply embarrassing, but thrown his ability into a poor light into the bargain. What he needed was for Meryl to learn Spanish and show up in Madrid, but as that wasn't going to happen, we had the perfectly respectable replacement of Emma Suarez, who as it turned out was only in half the film anyway. The rest of the time Julieta was played by Adriana Ugarte, not as jarring as you would have expected.
The two actresses were a very good complement to one another, thanks to a script that could not see any difference between them as they were both essaying the same woman, albeit at different stages. The older Julieta sits down at her desk and starts to write a letter to Antia which may never reach her, explaining about her father, Xoan (Daniel Grao), and what brought him and Julieta together: a chance meeting on a long distance train journey, where if it was not love at first sight it was pretty darn close. But there was a tragedy there too, for they would never have met if she had not been creeped out by an older man in her carriage who tried to strike up conversation which struck her as overfriendly, and not, as it transpires, a cry for help, a connection between two people that could have shaken him out of his suicidal tendencies.
Tragedy looms over the lives of the women we see, there is always something that can go wrong, and the results are not necessarily character-building, they can be character-destroying as well. The flashbacks offered up serve to fill in the blanks, the experience was akin to watching someone solve a jigsaw puzzle as the more we spent time with these people the further we could piece together their personalities and why they have ended up as they have. All very psychologically interesting, but rather than being moved by Julieta's plight, there was a lot of the inspecting under the microscope about the film, a slight clinical quality, that prevented total sympathy, that sense of being an observer but not quite relating to what was observed. The director's eye for a simple, striking image and his way with guiding actresses was still well to the fore, but there was an austere nature to how he presented this which did not help an ending that may have kept at least one mystery, but was pretty abrupt after we had spent an hour and a half with this woman and had a little investment at least in her. Music by Alberto Iglesias.