We should not be surprised to discover that, after all these years, Pedro Almodóvar remains very much himself. There is a scene in the middle-ranking Julieta where an omelette is prepared while the camera watches from above. The mixture is so voluptuously yellow – as if composed from acrylic paint – that even this cooking scene yells out the signature aesthetic.
This is worth noting because Almodóvar, in a project that was originally going to be shot in English, is tackling a famous series of stories by Alice Munro. The Canadian author's quiet observational prose does not sound like an ideal match for the director's primary colours, but he manages a very compelling collision of two warring styles. There is poignancy beneath the melodrama.
The framing drama finds Emma Suarez playing the titular academic in contemporary Madrid. On the eve of a trip to Portugal, she meets a friend of her daughter and elects to abandon her journey and return to her old apartment building. We drift back to the 1980s and find Julieta, now played by Adriana Ugarte, meeting two men on a train journey. Fleeing the first, after an awkward encounter, she runs across a handsome fisherman named Xoan (Daniel Grao) and falls into a passionate relationship. Later, they marry and have a daughter.
Not for the first time, Almodóvar employs Hitchcockian vocabulary to tell a tale that never quite becomes a suspense yarn. Strangers on a Train is an obvious reference point. Dressing down to shocking effect, Rossy de Palma, the film-maker's most frequent muse, will remind a few of Mrs Danvers in Rebecca. There is also something of The Ghost and Mrs Muir in the seaside retreat photographed to the strains of a lush Alberto Iglesias score that suggests Bernard Hermann's chords in that film (and, of course, so many Hitchcock projects).
The brilliant coup employed to shift between Ugarte and Suarez is, however, very much Almodóvar’s own. Mind you, it also gets at an everyday sadness that Munro might appreciate. The meld is complete.
The director quoted Philip Roth at the press conference: "Age is not an illness. It's a massacre." Oh well. The heart still seems to be pumping.