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Spain 2006
Directed by
Pedro Almodovar
120 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars


Synopsis: Living in Madrid, Raimunda (Penelope Cruz) is the hardworking mother of an adolescent daughter, Paula, (Yohana Cobo) and wife to an unemployed layabout husband. Back in her wind-swept home village, La Mancha, neighbour Agustina (Blanca Portillo) rings to tell Raimunda that her Aunt Paula has died, but Raimunda can’t attend the funeral because she has found her husband dead in the kitchen. Subsequently rumours abound in the superstitious village that Raimunda’s own dead mother had been seen tending to the dying aunt. And then Raimunda’s sister Sole (Lola Duenas) is visited by the “ghost” of their mother Irene, (Carmen Maura), whos has returned to attend to some unfinished business. 

Despite the somewhat convoluted plot, Volver in many ways tells a simple story, heralded by its title which means “to return”. The main return is of course that of the mother, and as we’ve seen with other Almodovar films, especially All About My Mother, the maternal presence is a very strong one for him, not to mention the world of women in general, heralded in the opening scene of a film in which men barely figurine. Volver is also a coming back to his roots for Almodovar, as he was born in La Mancha and for the esteemed actor, Carmen Maura, who starred in many of the director’s films in the 80s, including his 1988 Break-out hit, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Finally, the director returns to a more comedic mode after a couple of very serious films, including Bad Education and Talk to Her.

The fluid way in which the women relate to each other here is a pleasure to watch, the camera engaging intimately with the women's faces, young and old and gestures (paying particular attention to Cruz’s ample cleavage!). The film establishes is a lovely pattern of interconnectivity to the relationships between mothers and daughters, sisters, grandmothers and friends.

All the women act splendidly, but Cruz is indeed the stand-out in this film. She was awarded this year’s best actress at Cannes Film Festival, (and the film for best screenplay) and proves that she is far better in Spanish films than when she goes to Hollywood. Her Raimunda is a character both  pragmatic and strong, yet sensitive and vulnerable. Her fiery dark eyes can harden with resolve or spill over with tears and her credibility as both a mother and daughter is touching.

As Cruz delicately balances serious drama with a light comedic sensibility, so does the entire film. No sooner does something tragic happen, than it is counterbalanced in a humorous fashion. This is the charm of the film but also its weak point, as the mixing of the comedy and drama deprives it of a truly deep emotional affect. As in many Almodovar films there is also a shocking revelation although as usual the director manages to deal with sordid themes as if they are simply everyday matters, an approach which always adds an unsettling edge to his stories.

There are a large number of associated plot strands to this story, and at times they simply get a little too complicated and overly-melodramatic.Nevertheless, Volver is an admirable addition to an impressive body of work from one of Spain’s finest directors, one who really knows how to pay tribute to the strength and solidarity of women.




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