New films by Spanish director Pedro Alomodovar tend to be treated with a kind of unquestioning reverence, but truth be told, many of them, particularly in recent years, could seem a little long and overly convoluted.
So Julieta, Alomodovar's 20th film, may have inspired mixed feelings in audiences in the run up to its release.
Thankfully, this proves to be Almodovar's finest film in years, perhaps his best since 2004's Bad Education, and a potent antidote to 2009's rather overblown Broken Embraces.
For a start, it's short. The entire story, of which there's a lot, unfolds in an economical 96 minutes, with barely a dull moment to be noted. Like many of Almodovar's films, it's stitched together through a series of flashbacks, this time shuttling back and forth between contemporary Madrid and the 80s coast, passing through some magnificent 90s hair styles along the way.
Julieta is played by two actresses, each as good as the other. In the contemporary part of the story, Adriana Ugarte plays her as a woman maintaining a fragile control of her life, which is to be shattered by the chance encounter that opens the film.
In the first of a highly atmospheric series of flashbacks, Emma Suarez presents the character as an idealistic young woman in her early 20s, who takes a long, overnight train journey that will change her life.
There are twists, revelations, and characters and situations that appear to have wandered in from the mystery thrillers of the 1940s. Much of the story takes place off screen, only later to be revealed by the characters, which maintains a mysterious, ethereal feel: it's almost as if events were taking place just off our world, out of our reach but still affecting us.
In a conventional sense, the ending may leave some unsatisfied, but looking closer, it's arguably the most emotionally mature way to end this story. Perhaps the key to Julieta's success is its external influence: Almodovar worked from three short stories by Canadian author Alice Munro, and he seems comfortable with the discipline and structure that the tales have given him.