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Film / Julia

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"I think I have always known about my memory. I know when the truth is distorted by some drama or fantasy. But I trust absolutely what I remember about Julia."

Julia is a 1977 American drama film directed by Fred Zinnemann, adapted from one chapter of playwright Lillian Hellman's 1973 memoir Pentimento.

Set in the 1930s prior to World War II, the film stars Jane Fonda as Lillian Hellman and Vanessa Redgrave as the enigmatic title character. Julia, an old childhood friend of Lillian, has grown up to become a part of the "Popular Front" against rising fascism in Europe. The centerpiece of the film occurs when Lillian, following instructions sent by Julia, goes on a mission to deliver aid to the anti-fascist resistance in Nazi Germany — not a small deal, considering that Lillian is Jewish. Jason Robards co-stars as Lillian Hellman's mentor and lover Dashiell Hammett.

The accuracy of Pentimento is questionable, to say the least, but the film version was a success; it was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, winning for Redgrave and Robards' supporting roles and Alvin Sargent's screenplay adaption. Also appearing in the cast are Rosemary Murphy (as Dorothy Parker), Maximilian Schell, Hal Holbrook, John Glover, and some unknown named Meryl Streep making her big-screen debut in a minor role. (Hmm – what ever became of her, anyway?)

Tropes associated with this film include:

  • Based on a Great Big Lie: As noted above, the film is based on a memoir of dubious accuracy. There is no evidence that Julia ever existed or that Hellman's secret mission in Germany ever happened. However, Muriel Gardiner certainly existed and her life story bears a striking resemblance to that of Julia. Hellman never met Gardiner, though she could have heard about her as they shared a lawyer for many years. This would seem to suggest that Hellman fictionalized someone else's life without permission and then inserted herself into the story for good measure. For the rest of her life, Lillian Hellman would maintain that the story was true and that Muriel Gardiner was not the inspiration for Julia.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Lillian's friend Sammy tells a bizarre story about having sex with his sister Anne Marie (Meryl Streep's character) after his high school graduation. He seems to think it's an amusing anecdote.
  • Catapult Nightmare: After Julia's murder, Lillian wakes up screaming from a dream of looking for Lillian's spy partner Johann at the Berlin train station.
  • Conspicuous Trenchcoat: In Paris Lillian is approached by a man in a tan trenchcoat and fedora that just scream "secret agent". His name is Johann and it turns out he wants Lillian to smuggle $50,000 into Nazi Germany for the anti-Nazi underground.
  • Day of the Jackboot: It comes to Austria on a day in 1934 when fascist goons go rampaging through the medical school where Julia is stying. Julia is beaten severely and disappears for an extended time, and when she finally surfaces, she's dropped out of school to fight fascism.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: Does the film show the Eiffel Tower right after Lillian's narration says she went to Paris in hopes of artistic stimulation? Of course it does.
  • Flashback: A number of these are used to illustrate Lillian and Julia's long friendship. Julia doesn't actually make a lot of appearances in the main storyline, so the audience gets to know her mainly through these flashbacks. Since the whole film is a flashback, this is also technically a case of Flashback Within a Flashback.
  • The Great Depression: The movie is set in the 1930s, but the Depression doesn't really come up as the focus is on the rise of fascism in Europe. The numerous flashbacks featuring Lillian and Julia probably take place sometime around the late 1910s and early 1920s.
  • Hero's Muse: Julia essentially fulfills this trope, although she and Lillian are both female and presumably hetrosexual.
  • The Ken Burns Effect: Some zooms in and out of photos of 1930s fascism, in a montage where Lillian talks about the rise of fascism in Europe.
  • La Résistance: Julia is a leader in it. Lillian delivers some money to help it out.
  • Match Cut:
    • From a staffer at the German embassy in Paris handing Lillian her stamped passport, to a hotel clerk handing Lillian her Berlin train ticket.
    • From the actors in a Russian-language Hamlet congratulating each other onstage after the show, to Lillian bidding goodbye to some friends in the theater lobby.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Justified, since the movie was taken from Lillian Hellman's memoirs.
  • No Name Given: Julia's last name is never mentioned, either in the movie or in Hellman's memoir. Hellman claimed that she could not disclose Julia's identity because Julia's mother was still alive and likely to be litigious.
  • Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date: Hammett takes Lillian out on a rowboat as Lillian, giddy with the success of The Children's Hour, talks about buying a sable coat.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Julia lives with her grandparents, her mother having gone off to Scotland to live the high life as the wife of an earl.
  • Real-Person Cameo: The movie is narrated by Lillian, with us seeing her in the "present" as a silhouetted figure in a fishing boat. Although Jane Fonda is doing the voice-over, the person in the fishing boat is actually the real Lillian Hellman.
  • Rich Kid Turned Social Activist: Julia comes a wealthy family, but hates living with them due to her belief in social justice. Later, she drops out of university, forgoing a medical career, in order to join the anti-fascist movement.
  • Soapbox Sadie: Julia as a girl. She grows up to become an anti-fascist activist.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Lillian Hellman was a chain smoker in real life and the movie faithfully includes this detail. Since she's obviously a good character and the smoking is never condemned, it's fair to say this trope is in effect.
  • Table Space: The rather cold nature of the house where Julia grows up is shown in a flashback where she and Lillian are having dinner with Julia's grandparents—the grandparents being on either end of a table big enough to seat twelve, with the two girls sitting in the middle.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: The bad guys, of course. Most of the Nazis we meet are just Punch Clock Villains, though. An exception to that are the Gestapo agents who murder Julia at the end.
  • Timeshifted Actor: Susan Jones and Lisa Pelikan play younger versions of Lillian and Julia respectively.
  • Writer's Block: At the beginning Lillian is struggling with this while attempting to write her first play. Hammett suggests that she go see her friend Julia.
  • Writer's Block Montage: Lillian goes through one while struggling to write The Children's Hour.
  • Zip Me Up: Alan tries to pull this off with Lillian but she clucks her tongue at him and has Dottie button up her dress.