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Emma Suárez, Luminous Leading Lady of Spanish Cinema

By Noga Tarnopolsky | The Media Line

July 11, 2016

Emma Suárez presenting her latest movie, Julieta, at the Jerusalem Film festival in July, 2016. Photo credit: Malu Zayon ​

Star of Pedro Almodóvar’s latest blockbuster attends Jerusalem Film Festival

[Jerusalem] Emma Suárez looks like what you hope a leading lady will look like: effortlessly resplendent.

Only she is not what you expect from a Hollywoodesque star: vapid. She is anything but.

In fact, Suárez, a veteran of Spanish theater who stars in the legendary Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film, Julieta, that opened the 33rd annual Jerusalem Film festival, is a brainiac.

To prepare for her latest role, that of the protagonist, Julieta, a woman whose very concept of her own identity is in question, that Almodóvar based on three stories by the Canadian Nobel-prize winner Alice Munro, Suárez read Munro, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, the French realist writer Emmanuel Carrère and spent time looking at Lucien Freud paintings.

The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where Almodóvar said he had initially planned on casting Meryl Streep in what would have been his first English-language film, before shelving the idea for several years and finally concluding that he would revisit it as a Spanish film in the Spanish language.

It is no surprise he chose Suárez, 52, whose naturalness, flexibility, talent, and even smooth, planed features are reminiscent of that of Streep.

In the film, Julieta, a woman in her late 40s or early fifties, is preparing to move to Portugal with her boyfriend when a chance encounter changes everything: her personal status, her plans to relocate, her relationship, her understanding of who she is.

The film, which was released in Spain to generally positive reviews and was presented on the main competition stage in Cannes, tells a fairly straightforward story with a thriller-like twist on a screen that is continuously suffused with color.

The first frame you see appears to show red curtains billowing, only it is the red blouse of a woman breathing. At the end, you see a small red car at a growing distance, making its way along a curving mountain.

“The theater is a medium that never leaves you,” Suárez said, in an exclusive interview with The Media Line, “In cinema, it is all about the image.” She is planning on returning to the theater stage in 2017, but for now, “I’ve made four movies this year. It’s a period of great personal plenitude for me, a very beautiful period in my life. The acting vocation is for the long term,” she said, addressing the lack of roles for many women in the film industry, and her own beginnings at the age of 14.

“In the industry they are afraid, commercially afraid, of telling the story of mature women,” she said, “as if there is no market. These are movies that go in depth into the complex, nuanced lives adult women and the industry does not see things that way.”

Julieta, she says, “is a mature movie.” In fact, among the reproaches to Almodóvar’s twentieth movie some critics have bemoaned its lack of some of the outrage, fanfare and bombast that characterized many his early oeuvre.

Suárez, the movie’s protagonist and ambassador, arrived in Jerusalem fresh from presenting the movie at the Karlovy Vary film festival, in Bohemia. The filming itself took twelve weeks and was conducted in numerous Spanish cities.

Counterintuitively, Suárez says, the film highlights “the importance of words in communication.”

“I prepared for this by reading because I had to understand Julieta’s condition of solitude and abandon. I don’t identify her as especially Spanish. She is a character who represents feelings of crippling guilt while being completely irreligious and independent. It is a movie though which silence transmits a lot, more than what is actually said.”

The film’s original title, taken from one of Munro’s stories, was Silence.

“She is someone mysterious who suffers and who doesn’t speak, who writes a letter without addressee. Someone who is exposing herself and confronting her past but cannot utter words.”

She describes Almodóvar’s painstaking process in the making of this film as “telling the story in tiny portions, like Hitchcock. It’s marvelous. Pedro,” she said, “says it’s a movie you need to see again, that the audience should get a second ticket for free,” because of the switchblade turn at the end.”

He conjures up a feeling of “I’ll tell you what I never was able to tell anyone.”

In this respect, Julieta evokes a previous Almodóvar film, Talk to Her, in which the two female protagonists were in comas, suffering and mute.

“Paradoxically, people who carry a secret expose it in through their eyes,” Suárez says. “They can’t hide it. A secret turns you into a silent person, but secrets can’t be kept.”

Her next project will be Refugio, (Refuge) a play by the Spanish playwright Miguel del Arco, in which a politician disgraced by scandal and his wife, an opera singer who has lost her voice, take in a refugee in the hope of restoring his reputation. The refugee hasn’t uttered a word since the loss of his wife.

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