We meet Julieta (Emma Suárez), a middle-aged proofreader living in Madrid, as a chance encounter with a former friend compels her to end her relationship with Lorenzo (Darío Grandinetti) shortly before they relocate to Portugal. Lorenzo tells Julieta he feels as though she’s always concealed something important from him. Although she refuses to disclose what, the full story pours out later when Julieta writes a letter to the missing daughter whose existence she’s tried to eradicate from her life.
In a flashback we see Julieta, now played by younger actress Adriana Ugarte, building a life with Xoan (Daniel Grao), a handsome fisherman she met on a train journey, and their child Antía, who’s played by different actresses as she grows up. When Xoan is killed in a tragic boating accident, Julieta is consumed by depression and her teenage daughter becomes her sole focus until, seemingly without warning, an 18-year-old Antía cuts all ties with her mother and disappears.
The film’s mystery – why did Julieta’s daughter leave her? – is instantly gripping as Almodóvar unravels an increasingly bleak narrative adapted pretty seamlessly from three short stories by Canadian writer Alice Munro.
Like so many Almodóvar films, the emotional revelations are heightened by vibrant visuals and impeccable style: thanks to his regular costume designer Sonia Grande, Julieta morphs from someone who dresses like an ’80s new wave singer to a chic but understandably downbeat middle-aged woman. The ending, which answers some questions but poses others, may initially feel frustrating, but ultimately adds to the power of this sad but tremendously entertaining film.