Volver

Pedro Almodovar’s suspense-drama Volver is a gripping look into the fragility of the mother-daughter relationship

VOLVER (2006)
Starring Penelope Cruz
Written and Directed by Pedro Almodovar
Released by Sony Pictures Classics
Spanish with English subtitles
121 minutes

For a long time I was very interested in writing a column about the 1999 film All About My Mother, but unfortunately, for some reason, I cannot find the film in stores or a version online with English subtitles.   So instead, I’m substituting it for an equally good selection from Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar: Volver.

I love Almodovar for his beautiful mise en scene and devotion to showcasing the power of womanhood, but his plots are extremely detailed and complicated so bear with me if my review goes a little all over the place.

Penelope Cruz stars as Raimunda, a woman struggling to make ends meet as the breadwinner for her teenage daughter Paula and dead beat husband Paco.   While Raimunda clearly loves her daughter there’s a distance between them, the reason which becomes sadly clear near the end.

To be honest, I never thought Cruz was a good actress until I saw All About My Mother.   What I realized after seeing that film is without the pressure of trying to remember lines in English, Cruz is more than a pretty face and actually quite a gifted performer. While she is absolutely stunning in this film as well, Cruz gives Raimunda both the edge of someone who’s lived a hard life and the optimism of someone who still yearns for something more.

As I mentioned, Almodovar has a long history of celebrating women in film.   The first film of his I ever saw was the 1988’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown with Carmen Maura. Maura returns to Almodovar’s candy-coloured universe in this film as Irene, Raimunda’s mother.

As far as Raimunda and her sister Sole are concerned, both their parents died four years earlier in a fire in the village where they grew up.   The superstitious women in the village are convinced that Irene now haunts their elderly aunt’s house. While Raimunda and Sole are happy they’ve gotten away from this small world of rumours and superstitions, they admit it’s fishy that their aunt, who has clearly lost her mind, can still keep her large house in such good condition.

When Irene starts appearing to her daughters, things become unclear whether Irene really is a ghost or not.   Muara ‘s great performance helps add to the ambiguity of a woman trying to have a relationship with her daughters in “death” that she never seemed to achieve in life.

I don’t want to give any more of the story away, but let me say that Volver is an absolute must see next time you want not only a foreign film fix but a true piece of art directed by a master.

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