Time for another addition to the Foreign favourites series with impressive film reviewer Amy at Oh! That Film Blog. I haven’t been following her for long, but her thorough, detailed and incisive reviews are well written and really worth checking out.
Directed By: Pedro Almodóvar
Year of Release: 2006
Country of Release: Spain
Family secrets come to the forefront for a group of women spanning three generations of a somewhat estranged Spanish family. The death of a beloved aunt and the discovery of a tragic crime forces the ladies to confront the past, leading to shocking revelations and unexpected connections.
Volver, meaning ‘to return’ in Spanish, is a film that necessitates both the physical and emotional revisiting of hidden truths and obstacles planted throughout the life of protagonist Raimunda, played by director Pedro Almodóvar’s personal muse Penélope Cruz. Rather than be the brief and chaotic spark of a film as she is in Vicky Christina Barcelona, or even Nine, Cruz anchors this ‘tragicomedy’ in what one would call the straight role, acting instead as a magnet that one by one pulls an entire cast of whimsical, quirky characters in to the narrative. These include Lola Dueñas as her introverted and put upon Vicky Christina Barcelona, Blanca Portilla as the shaven headed, cannabis smoking neighbour Agustina and María Isabel Díaz as a larger than life but friendly neighbourhood prostitute Regina.
Though appearing to live separate and disassociated lives, the characters soon become inextricably linked to one another when Raimunda’s aunt dies in the same week that her husband Paco commits an act that leaves the family torn apart for good. Left to deal with the fallout of both events, Raimunda enlists the help of her family and friends and the drama begins to unfold as themes such as murder, incest, adultery and betrayal are all covered. Serious subject matters no doubt, but do not be tricked in to thinking that Volver is a depressing or heavy film. It seems to be a trademark of Pedro Almodóvar to be able to create a joyous experience from elements so maudlin and dark of those already mentioned, and this film is certainly not exception to the rule. Cutting through the weight of the film’s core themes is wry humour that rivals the best of British sarcasm. Some class it as Almodóvar ‘light’, and it is certainly less carnal in comparison than his other work, but this leaves room for a much more delicate touch and gentle progression. The film however, is undoubtedly recognisable as part of the director’s catalogue, incorporating his typical use of vibrant colour and at times overzealous score, bearing fitting resemblance in parts to the melodramatic telenovelas of South America and other Spanish speaking countries.
Ultimately, beneath the melodrama and outlandish narrative details, Volver is a film that celebrates the resilience of women. It celebrates their capacity for survival, it celebrates their commitment to a cause and it celebrates the actresses who portray such characters. Penélope Cruz has never been so engaging and impressive as she is here, verified by her Academy Award nomination in 2006 for Best Actress, and the group of performers that support her along the way are talented enough to each be leads themselves. The film is quintessentially and deliciously Spanish, from the quirky religious superstitions of the village outside of Madrid to the portrayals of unashamedly overbearing matriarchs, it will entertain and win the hearts of all, not just those, like myself, who have a Spanish family of their own to compare it to.
Final Verdict: A
My thanks to Amy for her review. I’ve seen some Pedro Almodovar films but not this one. After such a positive review, I’ll have to add it to the list.