2006, R, 121 min. Directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Starring Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo, Chus Lampreave, Antonio de la Torre, Carlos Blanco, María Isabel Díaz.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Jan. 12, 2007
No working male director loves the community of women more than Almodóvar, and Volver is his ode of love to women’s congress and fortitude. A delightful blend of melodrama and comedy, the film is the most luscious yet restrained example of the filmmaker’s recent work. Volver’s characters are all vibrant, contemporary examples of Spanish womanhood, not the iconic female representations seen in Almodóvar’s last few films: Bad Education (transvestite), Talk to Her (comatose), All About My Mother (grieving parent). Volver also returns Cruz to the Almodóvar fold (where she appeared in many of the director’s films before embarking on a career in Hollywood), and the actress has never been more magnificent. It’s clear that Hollywood has no idea of what to do with European women (and, to a great extent, American women also) other than turn them into earthy sex goddesses. The title Volver translates into English as “to return,” and the implications of this phrase are many – for both the filmmaker and his characters. Cruz plays a character named Raimunda who, with her sister Sole (Dueñas) and daughter Paula (Cobo), travel back and forth from Madrid where they live to the windy, dusty town of their birth, where their aunt and some friends still reside. One of the activities in this region, where we’re told the women outlive the men, is the frequent visit to the cemetery to dust the tombstones of the dead. But some of the dead here do not remain dead, and with a seeming touch of magical realism, one of them returns as a ghost to resolve things with the sisters that were not settled during life. Back in Madrid, another dead character remains dead – a bulky corpse whose disposal becomes one of the story’s main plot devices. During the course of the movie, Raimunda blossoms from harried wife, mother, wage earner, and housekeeper into a savvy and self-confident restaurateur and problem solver. Cruz is captivating to watch throughout – not only as we gaze at her glorious body (which is celebrated from every angle by Almodóvar’s camera) but as a real person with money trouble, husband trouble, sister squabbles, parenting problems, and unresolved issues from her past. The film is realistic, yet Almodóvar’s touch of the absurd and the madcap infiltrate everything that occurs while his candy-colored visual palette lends a brightness to what in other hands might have taken the form of a sordid tale. Raimunda believes that dirty linen should be washed at home: Thank goodness Almodóvar hangs some of it up on the screen to dry.