Saturday, January 13, 2007


Movie name: Volver - Return
Year of release: 2006
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Stars: Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo, Chus Lampreave
Genre: Independent
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

“Volver” marks the return of Pedro Almodóvar to women’s stories, where men sit in the backdrop for stories which even though fairly common, are given a touch of almost surreality as seen through the lenses of Almodóvar.

After the hits that were “Carne Trémula” (Live Flesh), “Todo Sobre Mi Madre” (All about my mother), “Hable con Ella” (Talk to Her) and “La Mala Educación” (Bad Education), Pedro Almodóvar returns with “Volver” to another women’s story, this time focusing on the different generations of women within a family. Whereas 2004’s Bad Education focused on men, and on the director’s biographical elements that propelled the story (namely, being taught by priests and the sexual context), “Volver” draws it’s inspiration in the neo-realistic films from Italy, namely the suffering mother, willing to do whatever is necessary for the family (the presence of Anna Magnani is felt throughout the film, even being shown in a scene on the TV set).
“Volver” introduces us early on to the characters of Raimunda and Sole, two sisters, who are visiting their aunt in their hometown. Their aunt, old and forgetful, is being taken care of by their neighbor and friend Agustina, but mostly by the ghost of their deceased mother, Irene. Upon their return to Madrid, Raimunda’s family life takes an unexpected turn when her husband decides to take advances to her daughter, who ultimately kills him. Raimunda takes advantage of a coffee house that has vacated in the meantime and that is waiting for a new lease, and dumps the body there – simultaneously starting to use the coffee house as a means of income. Upon the death of their aunt, Sole goes back to their hometown for the funeral, and returns with their mother in the trunk of her car. Irene is trying to take care of those she had no chance to care for before, namely her recently deceased sister and now her daughters. The story continues to unravel as the dynamics between these women are slowly exposed and brought forth.
The prolific Pedro Almodóvar continues to further explore his universe with “Volver” another of his women stories, filled with a bittersweet humor and as always with characters that are strong and resourceful. This film continues to show the maturity that his filmmaking has achieved – whereas in the late 80’s and early 90’s, his comedies were known for his taste for the irreverence and shocking (and also the kitsch – check “Kika” for instance), now the director has achieved a level of comfort, that just allows him to slowly unravel each story as if though it’s a tapestry of relationships. His stories are still filled with quirky situations, and strong women, but no longer are these characters just designed to occupy filmic space – these characters are now fully developed and end up existing within the stories that Almodóvar creates. The influences of classic melodramas are still felt, from the works of Douglas Sirk, George Cukor, to the neo-realistic style of the Italian films of the 50’s, in the particular case of “Volver”. The acting is always something memorable in Almodóvar’s films, and in this case all the actresses excel (they won the collective acting award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival), particularly the luminous Penélope Cruz – after her mediocre American performances in less than stellar films (“Sahara” to name one of the most recent ones), she again proves the great actress she can be. Raimunda is a resourceful and strong woman, who has endured difficult situations, and through hardship has managed to forge a respectful and straight life, for herself and for her daughter. This film also marks the return of Carmen Maura to Pedro Almodóvar’s films – she who was his muse during the 80’s (their last film together was “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” in 1988, after which they had a personal falling out) – the character is perfect for Carmen Maura, she who was always the dynamo in all the films that Almodóvar did in the 80’s (even when she was a supporting player in the cases of “Matador” and “Entre Tieneblas” for instance).
“Volver” is a film that solidifies the Almodóvar touch, in a solid and mature way, further exploring his universe. It’s a film that for some may lack his kitschy side, his more pop and eye-catching visuals, but that is more than compensated in the way that the story unfolds and in what the actresses convey.