Women on top

Pedro Almodovar’s Julieta stubbornly wades through loneliness. Dardenne brothers’ Dr Jenny doggedly pursues The Unknown Girl who died mysteriously on her doorsteps. The award winning directors spin the female-centric storytelling on its head for their respective masterpieces

Two times Academy winner, Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar explores the lonely life of his lead protagonist in his film Julieta. Adapted from three short stories from the Canadian writer Alice Munro’s Runaway, Almodovar freely rewrote to merge the three different stories for a feature film in Spanish settings.

It is “about the mother’s struggle to survive uncertainty. It also talks about fate, about guilt complexes and about that unfathomable mystery that leads us to abandon the people we love, erasing them from our lives as if they had never meant anything, as if they had never existed.”

Julieta has seen her mother suffering and father attracted to a young girl and marrying her immediately after her mother’s death. She has seen her co-passenger dying on the rail tracks and falls in love with Xoan in Hitchcock’s Stran-gers on a Train style. After Xoan’s death on the stormy seas, relocates to Madrid with their daughter Antia who disappears after a three-month meditation camp when she was 18.

We see her trying to rebuild her life in Portugal but sacrifices that after meeting Bea, once close friend of Antia. She was expecting some communication from Antia at their last known address and shifts to that building. Finally, the expected mail arrives and she travels to meet her daughter.

Julieta’s tale is one of loneliness. She refuses to understand either Xoan or Antia.

“This mother is the most vulnerable mother, the weakest, with the least capacity to fight. Mothers in my other films are powerful,” said Almodovar. “I turned her into a victim of losses” — losing the co-passenger, losing the mother, losing the husband, losing the daughter and almost losing the last lover and her life. “She was almost like a zombie walking without any purpose. The feeling of guilt pervades the mother and daughter and the entire film.

Shot in bright reds, blues and yellow, wonderful camera lurking around Julieta capturing her life as it evolves, Almodovar delivers yet another great film.

Two-time Golden Palm winning Belgian filmmaker duo Dardenne brothers (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne) explore the lives of their main protagonists — women — in their last three films (Lorna’s Silence, The Kid With A Bike and Two Days One Night). They continue this exploration in The Unknown Girl.

Dr Jenny, already late by an hour to close the dispensary, does not open the door when the bell rings one night. Next day, the police approach her to check the video recording of the street from her dispensary as a girl, without any identity, has been found dead in the night.

The video reveals the face of the young coloured immigrant who was ringing the bell in great panic and fear. The face haunts the benevolent doctor.

As the victim would be buried without any name or address, she decides to investigate her identity. It is a new learning process for her into the life and psyche of ordinary people around her — whether the boy who swallows the truth to protect his father or the son bringing prostitutes to service his old father, the police officers who do not get at the truth and stop investigations at one point to proceed with another big drug case or the sister of the victim who first denies any knowledge of the victim and later appears in front of Dr Jenny to own up the identity of her dead sister.

Without any sloganeering or looking down or up upon his simple characters, Dardenne brothers manage to weave the story subtly. The doctor feels responsible not only for her patients, visiting them at home at all odd hours, but also for the victim. She is brave enough to shoulder that responsibility without any feeling of guilt. At the same time, she is not judgmental about any of the people involved with her investigation. It is more like a medical investigation, not a crime investigation.

The filmmakers said, “When there is lack of collective responsibility in the society, Dr Jenny shoulders the responsibility. She is someone who repairs the situation. The people involved confess their link with the death. We are interested in Dr Jenny and her life. We are not trying to pass on any message.”

Women in Dardenne brothers’ films are characters who are free and make the society move forward. The photograph of the young girl obsesses Dr Jenny and she makes people change. There are no real monsters. “We are always faced with human miseries,” commented the filmmakers.

The brothers are well known for their handheld camera. The film shot mostly in midshots and some close ups is unhurried and captures effectively the feelings of Dr Jenny.

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