Julieta, the latest film by Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, is not as wacky or funny as some of his previous efforts (The Skin I Live In, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), but tells the engrossing story of middle-aged Julieta (Emma Suarez), who is trying to reconnect with her daughter after a family tragedy separates them for more than a decade.

As usual, Almodovar plays with color and time, and there's an homage to Hitchcock, but the film mirrors Julieta's serious and subdued mood.

Visiting the Toronto International Film Festival in the fall from Spain, Julieta actresses Adriana Ugarte (the young Julieta) and Almodovar veteran Rossy de Palma (Julieta's housekeeper, channeling Mrs. Danvers of Hitchcock's Rebecca) talked about the movie and working with Almodovar. The Toronto setting for the interview was ideal, as Julieta is based on three short stories by Alice Munro, perhaps Canada's most beloved writer.

"For me, it's so natural," de Palma said of working with the director, who discovered her nearly 30 years ago and has since cast her in Law of Desire (1987) and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989), among others. "Even when I am not working with him and I go to see his movies, I feel like I'm in them."

De Palma said that working with Almodovar was always fun and funny, "even in a film like this, in which there's not much of a sense of humor."

For Ugarte, who has been acting since she was a teenager, being cast for one of his movies was a thrill.

"I never dreamed I would some day work with Pedro," she said. "At the beginning, I thought maybe it's a mistake, he's going to realize that I'm not the right the actress for playing Julieta.

"For my audition, I did not even know who the director was," Ugarte said. She found out she was up for an Almodovar film only after her second audition.

When she met the famed director at his home,  she tried to control her nerves.

"I was a little bit overwhelmed," she said, "but I just wanted to try to be myself -- not try to be too sexy or funny -- and to connect with Pedro."

Working with him was different from working with previous filmmakers, Ugarte said, but incredibly special.

"He's very demanding, but he gives you 100 percent and is so generous," she said. "You have to be flexible because he needs you very open to work with your heart and your mind.

"So, like Rossy said, I felt very comfortable. I did not feel lonely or abandoned or used."

Although Almodovar is well known for planning his movies down to the smallest details, both actresses said he was always receptive on the set to new ideas.

"He's not rigid," de Palma said. "You can change some things. But other things, he'll say, 'Not that.'

"And he's always open to accidents. The mistakes bring a lot of creative stuff."

De Palma said that although she was by nature open and willing to talk about everything, what Julieta has done so well was to reveal that "the things we don't tell to each other are everything. You think they are invisible, but they are not. They lead to heavy stuff between people.

"The film shows off the shadows going on in the middle of the relationships."

She said Julieta also has a strong and empowering feminist angle.

"Since the Bible, women always feel guilty," de Palma said, "about our kids, our companions, what we do, what we don't do. Women are trained to feel guilty, so perhaps this film helps us to get past that -- to forgive ourselves.

Ugarte smiled. "But you cannot," she said.


In our interview at the Toronto Film Festival, I asked de Palma and Ugarte their thoughts on Philadelphia.

Neither of the actresses had ever been here, but knew of the city through movies.

"I was thinking about the movie Philadelphia with Antonio Banderas . . . and Tom Hanks," de Palma said. "But something else is Philadelphia, right?"

Do you mean Rocky?

"Rocky, of course," she said.

"It's very cold there in the winter, right?"