On a sunny Madrid street, a middle-aged woman and a younger woman pass each other and a great surprise of remembrance hits them.  Beatriz, the younger one, recognizes Julieta, the mother of her childhood best friend Antia.  They haven’t seen each other in over a decade.  Quickly, their smiles give way to a shared empathy of worry as we begin to learn about the as-yet-unspoken concern they clearly share.

Just like that, renowned Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar seizes our attention and lights the fires of intrigue with human simplicity in “Julieta,” his 20th feature film and Spain’s entry this year for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award.  Concocting a brew of passion coupled with remorse across personal history young and old, Almodovar unspools the tangled threads of a guilt-ridden woman’s heart.  Adapted from three Alice Munro short stories, “Julieta” is a strong return to the female-focused storyscapes that have made him a legend.  

Returning to the street encounter, Antia has been estranged and missing from Julieta (Emma Suarez) for 12 years.  Her father is not present and there’s bound to be a reason why.  When Beatriz (Michelle Jenner) reveals that Antia is living well and now the mother of three children of her own, the dozen years of worry turn into a wellspring of hope in Julieta.  The news comes at a time when she had given up on Madrid, moved beyond searching for Antia, and was packing to move away with her author boyfriend Lorenzo (Dario Grandinetti).  Instead, she moves back into the old Madrid flat where she raised Antia without Lorenzo and renews her hope of reconnection.

Settling in and unpacking old memories, Julieta decides to write Antia a letter attempting to explain all of troubling past circumstances she couldn’t tell her before she left.  Through that narrated vessel of soul-bearing expression, Almodovar takes us back to the younger Julieta (Adriana Ugartes) and how instant chemistry led to a burly fisherman named Xoan (Daniel Grao) to become Antia’s father.  The extended flashback reveals their familial years of love, tragedy, doubt, hostility, and alienation that all leads back to the present-day state of Julieta.

Pedro Almodovar has a skillful hand and sumptuous style all his own that comes out in front of and behind the camera.  His playful shifts of perspective through angular distance and intimate close-ups, supplied by French cinematographer Jean-Claude Larrieu, probe bedroom pillow talk and isolated sadness with equal attention.  The jazz-tinged score in the flashback sequences from composer Alberto Iglesias coyly transmutes into melancholy woodwinds as time and solitude progresses.  The scope of pure atmosphere is impressive, spanning from the fragile to the erotic.

“Julieta” is a performance-driven film thickened by that atmosphere.  Plain and simple, Almodovar has a remarkable way in which his films extract emotionality and sensual ardor from mundane settings and artful melodrama.  The desirable Adriana Ugarte carries the film, portraying the intricate transformation of the stirring younger Julieta into the broken powerful anchor Emma Suarez represents in the Juliet of her later years.  The sheer breadth of character Almodovar cultivates through his writing and direction of female performers has few equals or peers.  “Julieta” possess a draw to know what happened that begs to be answered by the viewer.

LESSON #1: A MOTHER’S HEART CARRIES STORIES HER CHILDREN WILL NEVER KNOW-- The young commonly cannot handle the truthful details that come from difficult choices and mistakes made by adults.  Parents, particularly in moments of emotional pain, will put on a front of strength for their children.  The adults carry the entire amount of grief while the young are still shaped by the amount of it they are saddled to carry and comprehend.

LESSON #2: HOW GUILT AFFECTS THOSE CLOSEST TO YOU-- Continuing further, the feelings of blame and guilt have ripple effects for all touched by it.  What emotions and truths are understood can be gradually accepted and resolved.  However, those feelings that are not addressed or understood fully (again, look beyond the half-story front given to children) can decay one’s psyche and heart over time.  Misplaced blame has created the distance between the mother and daughter of this story.