Volver (2006) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA Rated: R for sexual content and language
Running Time: 121 min.

Cast: Penelope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Duenas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo, Chus Lampreave, Antonio de la Torre
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Screenplay: Pedro Almodovar
Review published November 3, 2006

Volver is a difficult film to categorize, and perhaps even harder to explain. I suppose the best way to summarize it is as an "Almodovar film", and leave it at that. If you've seen any of the films of Pedro Almodovar (Bad Education, All About My Mother), you'll know they are stylized, with strong female characters and a lively progression where the characters mature, although they do so without any concerted effort on their own part. That's not to say the film is disjointed or muddled, as it is always very easy to follow, with some subtle symbolism (ever-present items like donuts, flowers, windmills all represent the circular nature of returning -- "volver" literally means "to return" in Spanish), and with such rich characterizations, it is always a breeze to watch.  Yes, it is in every sense of the phrase an "Almodovar film", and for those who consider themselves fans, it is a must see seriocomic tale of one family's determination to cope through tragedy, even if the tragedy is of their own making.

Penelope Cruz (Bandidas, Sahara) stars as Raimunda, who travels every so often to visit the grave of her mother, Irene, who died in a fire many years ago. They also take the time to tend to their ailing aunt Paula (Lampreave, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), who claims to be OK living on her own, as Irene takes care of her, despite her death. On their return home, things aren't so rosy, as Raimunda's husband (de la Torre) has recently been fired from his job, leaving their financial security uncertain. What started as uncertain becomes quite certain when Raimunda comes home to find her husband dead, killed by her daughter Paula (Cobo), defending herself from the advances of her father. Raimunda's impulse is to take responsibility for the event, trying to figure out a way to dispose of the body without anyone finding out. Things get worse when she learns that aunt Paula has finally passed, and things get weird for Raimunda's sister, Sole (Duenas, The Sea Inside), when her mother, Irene (Maura, La Comunidad), appears to her, and she doesn't know whether it is an apparition or her real mother returned.

Shifting between comedy, drama and melodrama with almost effortless measure, Volver delights us visually, with characters we enjoy following, but, as with many of Almodovar's recent films, doesn't quite have that grip on thematic resonance that strikes a chord with assuredness. It plays much more whimsical, especially considering the serious nature of the events within the film, never pausing very long for reflection, with tearful confessions merely a momentary pause in this shifting multi-textured story.  It's certainly entertaining in its own fashion, but whatever meaning one derives from it all will probably reside in the mind of the beholder much more so that in Almodovar pointing it out. It's the kind of movie where one can look into it and see the world, or see nothing at all, except for the pointless nature of it (at least in the minds of those viewers).

Penelope Cruz, who always seems so much more appealing in Spanish-language films than English, delivers one of her strongest performances, and makes it worth watching to understand how she became such a sought-after actress internationally. The rest of the cast play their roles with flair, with former muse, Carmen Maura, returning to Almodovar after almost twenty years, perfectly in tune with the uneasy nature of Almodovar's style. Rich color schemes, vivid cinematography, and gorgeous attire accentuate the delightfulness of Spain in all its glory.

Almodovar essentially delivers another celebration of women, particularly of mothers and daughters, and the difficulties those relationships entail. At this point of his career, you're either with it, or you're just not "with it", so if you haven't yet been initiated, it's probably best to familiarize yourself with his many fine earlier works first.

 Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo