Three generation of Spanish women, Raimunda (Pénelope Cruz), her teenage daughter (Yohana Cobo) and her hairdresser sister, Sole (Lola Dueñas), are coping as best they can since the death of their mother and grandmother Abuela (Carmen Maura), who died some years earlier, along with her husband, in a mysterious fire. However, all is not as it seems in the village and unresolved matters within the family and with neighbour Agustina (Blanca Portillo) bubble to the surface.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If ever there was such a thing as grand melodrama, many of Pedro Almodóvar's works would certainly fit the description, and Volver (accent on the second v and long last syllable) is the grandest of them all. What is often remarkable about Almodóvar's work is that if you took his script and threw away his cast, handed the pages to a tv producer, they'd end up as hugely popular afternoon soaps. Such is Almodóvar's gift for taking a trinket and turning it into a jewel. (Although I doubt a tv exec would accept a script that has two male characters, neither of them good guys and one of them never even seen.)
With Volver, he begins playfully, teasing us with mysterious elements that seem to be mere fluff, before the revelations glue the film together with force. In fact, Almodóvar challenges us critics to talk about the film without spoiling the twists and turns and revelations that make the film so rewarding. So I'll say as little as possible about the story and its complexities, and stick to the performances.
Penelope Cruz gives Almodóvar everything he asks for as the mother whose secrets lie at the bottom of the story. Cruz is feisty, engaging, vulnerable yet pragmatic when cornered. She is superbly supported by teenager Yohana Cobo as her daughter, and Lola Dueñas as her sister. Almodóvar's longtime screen collaborator Carmen Maura has the toughest role, needing to play from deep, age-old pain and yet retain a lightness to draw us in.
Together with Blanca Portillo, these five women populate a world of love betrayed, sexual abuse, guilt, alienation and finally - as the title implies - love returned from a long absence. But how all this is done is what's magic about Volver, a sleight of hand that had the Cannes audience (the real ticket buying public, not the gala invitees surrounding the interested parties and filmmakers) clapping enthusiastically on May 19, 2006.
Review by Louise Keller:
It is fitting that Volver's closing credits are designed around flowers and colour. Women are Pedro Almodóvar's flowers, and the palette on which they are displayed is always colourful. While Volver's plot is wildly complex with its themes of death, incest and love, its lasting resonance is one of uncomplicated and unbridled joy. This vibrant comedy with tragic elements marks Almodóvar's return to some of his favourite things. This includes his recurring theme about motherhood and uncompromising maternal love as well as working with his favourite first ladies Penelope Cruz and Carmen Maura. The film's story unspools like an exquisite ball of silk yarn. Things simply happen. That's not to say they are simple. Volver's plot is filled with juicy ingredients that would make a melodrama explode at the seams. There's lust, murder, deception and several well-kept secrets. And Almodóvar's marvellously crafted film lures us into a fascinating world, where ordinary women seize control of their lives.
The film begins with a scurry of activity at a graveyard where a group of women clean, dust and polish the graves with meticulous care. Death does not mean the end of a relationship - far from it. And ironically, the connection with the departed often proves to be stronger in death, as the central characters discover. Who else but Almodóvar could make washing-up look artistic? He shoots Penelope Cruz from above as she stands at the sink, a study in composition with her alluring cleavage positioned above the mundaneness of the knife and plate in the sink below. Cruz has never looked lovelier as Raimunda, the devoted daughter with a secret. She may be petite, but Raimunda has no difficulty in finding the strength to cope with an out of control domestic situation. Both she and Lola Dueñas are vulnerable as sisters coping with the death of their mother. The film is filled with wonderful moments, like the one when Raimunda sings the song her mother taught her, never suspecting her recently deceased mother, can hear her as she hides in the car.
Almodóvar takes our emotions and gives them a workout. We smile, we ache, we cry, we laugh. How delicious, says Cruz's Raimunda, wrinkling her nose with delight as she sips a mojito. Delicious indeed. Just like the film.
Email this article
CAST: Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo, Chus Lampreave, Leandro Rivera
PRODUCER: Esther Garcia
DIRECTOR: Pedro Almodóvar
SCRIPT: Pedro Almodóvar
CINEMATOGRAPHER: José Luis Alcaine
MUSIC: Alberto Iglesias
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Salvador Parra
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 21, 2006