The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 20, No. 4


by Pedro Almodóvar

Translated from the Spanish by Carolina De Robertis

My new film, Julieta, has its literary origins in short fiction. From the moment I first read Alice Munro's collection Runaway, I've wanted to adapt three of its stories ("Chance," "Soon," and "Silence") for the screen. The three share a protagonist, Juliet, who navigates relationships with her partner, her parents, and her daughter, but the stories are not consecutive. They are independent, and I've tried to unite them, inventing my way into what was missing.
     Runaway had already appeared among the props of my 2011 film The Skin I Live In. On the tray that the jailor Marisa Paredes (Marilia) passes to the captive Elena Anaya (Vicente/Vera), in addition to breakfast, lies a copy of Alice Munro's book.
     At that time, I'd already begun the adaptation that would become Julieta. I'd traded the original setting of Vancouver for New York, because I feel closer to the United States than to Canada. The two countries have similar ways of approaching familial relationships. Children leave the home early, upon entry to university, and many of them then grow distant from their families; independence is both emotional and geographic. In Spain, familial relationships are never broken—the umbilical cord that binds us to our parents and grandparents survives the passing of time, with exceptions, of course: here, too, there are children who leave their homes, as well as fathers or mothers who abandon their families and never return.
     I worked on a first draft in Spanish, endeavored to make the three stories my own, and moved with all the freedom that the writing of a script demands, even when the project is an adaptation. But in the end, uncertainty overwhelmed me: I was unsure of the script, and of my ability to direct in English. I was afraid to change the language, culture, and geography. So I put that first draft aside, without any definite plans.
     Two years ago I started poking around in the script again. I liked it more than I'd thought I would, and I recast the setting in Spain. The more I developed the Spanish–language version, the further I drifted from Alice Munro; I had to fly with my own wings. Her stories are still the origin of Julieta, but if it's already difficult to translate this Canadian writer's style to a form so distinct from literature as film, to render it as a Spanish story is an impossible task. So admirers of Alice Munro should see, in my Julieta, a tribute to the Canadian writer, rather than a faithful adaptation.
     I built the screenplay around a sequence in a night train that unfolds in the story "Chance." In that highly metaphorical and significant context, Julieta encounters the two poles of human existence: death and life. And physical love as a response to death.
     The film debuted at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. I hope you enjoy it.

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