‘Julieta’ could bring Pedro Almodovar back to Oscars

Pedro Almodovar has helmed the Spanish entry in the Best Foreign Language Film race six times, including this year’s submission “Julieta.” “All About My Mother” (1999) won this award while “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (1988) numbered among the five nominees. “High Heels” (1991) and “The Flower of My Secret” (1995) did not make the final five. Nor did “Volver” (2006) but Penelope Cruz received a Best Actress nomination ultimately losing to Helen Mirren for “The Queen.” And while “Talk to Her” (2002) won the BAFTA and Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, Spain did not submit it at the Oscars, opting instead for Fernando Leon de Aranoa’s “Mondays in the Sun,” which did not reap a bid. The academy compensated by nominating Almodóvar for Best Director and awarding him Best Original Screenplay.

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Spain also passed Almodóvar over for “The Skin I Live In” (2011), which went on to win the BAFTA. The country’s submission was “Black Bread,” which had swept the Goyas (Spanish Oscars), winning in nine races, including Best Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay; “The Skin I Live In” won four. “Black Bead” was barely released outside of Spain and grossed only half of what “The Skin I Live In” did within Spain ($3 million USD versus $6 million USD), so Spain had hoped to appeal to the academy with a critical hit instead of a commercial one.

“Julieta” is certainly a populist choice, as it has already grossed $15 million USD worldwide, making it the biggest box office hit that Spain has submitted since “The Orphanage” (2007), which was snubbed. It is a tough choice between critical and commercial submissions in the category, as each side has had their hits and misses. The year after Spain submitted “Black Bread” over “The Skin I Live In,” France went with “The Intouchables” over “Holy Motors” and was likewise snubbed. The former is the highest-grossing French film ever; the latter is so critically-acclaimed that it later ranked 16th on the BBC’s 2016 list of the best films of the new millennium.

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“Julieta” premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival in May and opens in the United States and Canada in December. Screenings here have been limited to festivals, like the Vancouver International Film Festival where this writer saw it. The film starts and ends with its eponymous character as an older woman played by Emma Suárez (think Carey Mulligan in twenty years), but much of the film unfolds in flashbacks in which she is played by Adriana Ugarte (a Keira Knightley lookalike).

Based on short stories set in Vancouver by Canadian Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro, Almodóvar repurposed the material for Spain. Although a melodrama about a woman who has fallen out of touch with her daughter at its core, the film tonally resembles a James Bond movie. And like any good spy thriller, “Julieta” is complete with death at sea, sex on trains and helicopter shots of the countryside.

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The musical score by Alberto Iglesias represents the film’s best chance at a nomination outside of the Foreign Language Film category.  Iglesias is a past three-time nominee for “The Constant Gardener” (2005), “The Kite Runner” (2007) and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” (2011). His second nomination notably was from a film that received no other Oscar nominations. The academy will announce in December if “Julieta” is among the nine films shortlisted for a Best Foreign Language Film nomination. A record 89 countries submitted this year; 85 films were deemed eligible.

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