To the London premiere of the new Almodovar film. There is red carpet on the terrace of Somerset house, and the open air café is packed. That Spanish woman in front of the TV camera is gorgeous, her figure shown off beautifully. There’s a problem with fangirling- I don’t know what he looks like, so send off a frantic text. “Short, stocky, white” comes back, by which time I am too late for a photograph. “Beard, sticky-up white hair?” I text. That was indeed the guy.

It was a beautiful film, and the next morning I feel very different about it than last night. Two actresses play Julieta, who is in every scene: we only learn of things where she is not there by someone telling her. I like to sympathise with a protagonist, share in her joys and sorrows, and root for her, and I found Julieta sympathetic. Comprehensive spoilers, as I write of my reaction, though knowing the story may help you appreciate the richness of it. Julieta’s husband dies, and she becomes profoundly depressed. Her teenage daughter has to look after her, but aged 18 leaves, ensuring her mother does not know her address. Some years later, the daughter writes to Julieta, whose new boyfriend drives her to the address.

-It can’t end like that! I want to know what happens next!
So I say they are reconciled, and live in the new place together happily.
-Oh, you’re just spinning.

Of course I was. That was the result I wanted, though I saw that alternatives were possible- in any case, this story is over and a new chapter would start.

In the morning, I felt totally different about it. I thought, a child should not have to care for her mother. There is that brilliant moment when we see Julieta’s face, and it is desolate- just a moment- but lifting your mother out of the bath because of depression- the daughter has to escape her mother. Finding out about the circumstances just before her death makes an excuse, or precipitates it, but that resentment would blight her.

That scene in the train. Julieta is in her twenties, and an older man starts to chat to her. She leaves, and starts to talk to a younger man- she did not like the way the other was looking at her. Then the train emergency brakes, and we see her flung forward painfully. The younger man finds that the older man has killed himself. I had not seen the sexual tension until she complained- why can she not just be friendly, I thought, until she said, and my sympathy went to her again. And- not talking to someone cannot make them kill themself- but-

I could be thinking about this film for days. I suppose I want the protagonist to be a hero- the “male fantasy” of striving heroically and winning through, which H found so dull. This is far more complex. That housekeeper. That scene in the classroom. Being a proof-reader, rather than a teacher- “I found a job which I could do from home”. Together it makes up a life, a character, luck choices and personality. I loved her, then I hated her, now she just is. If I saw it again, I might pigeonhole the incidents, give her marks out of ten for moral worth, but not knowing might be better.

Pedro Almodovar

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