Julia (1977) is based on a section of Lillian Hellman’s book Pentimento. The story follows the relationship between Hellman and her best friend Julia, who is also an anti-Nazi activist.
I watched Julia many years ago, and I remembered it as a fantastic introduction to Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave and Fred Zinnemann. I was thoroughly hooked from the beginning to end by every aspect of this film: the direction, the score, the slightly “surreal”/”dreamy” atmosphere, and the top-notch acting. I will discuss Jane Fonda’s performance in another post, and okay, I didn’t get Maximilian Schell’s nomination. I mean he was fine but no, he didn’t need to be nominated for that. Jason Robards was good, and I have no issues with his win but it is really Vanessa Redgrave who absolutely deserved her Oscar. She has always been actress who could do so much with so little, and it’s the same here. She utilizes her extremely unique screen presence (I’m sure her greatest fans would know what I am referring to) to bring out the mystery behind this character, and like many others, we never know whether she existed or not. Although she only appears in a couple of scenes throughout the films, she makes Julia such a fascinating and complex character – a great friend, an intelligent young woman, a fierce political activist, a *SPOILER ALERT* mother to an unseen child…
I have always been a fan of Fred Zinnemann’s movies, and over here his direction is truly in top form. I usually have issues with non-linear narratives, but thanks to Zinnemann’s expert direction, it works amazingly in this film. The way the childhood scenes were interwoven with the present scenes was flawlessly handled, especially the way they were used to develop the story. They also helped in creating the aforementioned “dreamy” atmosphere, letting the viewers wonder whether the entire story was real or merely a figment of Hellman’s imagination. And the tense atmosphere in the train scene was one of the best “suspenseful moments” I have ever seen in a movie. The whole segment was done in a simple and understated way, and yet Zinnemann’s direction (and Fonda’s performance) constantly keeps you on the edge, always guessing what is going to happen next.
Friendship is never an easy theme to cover realistically, as most films tend to address it in a rather superficial manner. I can easily say that Julia and Lillian’s friendship is one of the best I’ve ever seen portrayed on film. Thanks to the strong performances by Redgrave and Fonda, the portrayal of Lillian and Julia’s friendship is both touching and heartbreaking. I never once doubted the authenticity of their relationship, which was epitomized during their brief reunion in the cafe scene (SO good). When they parted, the heartbreak and sadness in both characters were so real that I felt slightly uncomfortable.
I could go on about what a perfect film Julia is to me, but you will really have to see it for itself to experience it. Even though I’ve already seen it once, I was still thoroughly drawn by it from beginning to end on this rewatch. Truly an underrated classic. 5/5.