Movie Review #840: Most certainly, I will return to ‘Volver’ for another viewing.

By Alexander Diminiano

Comedy, Crime, Drama
Rated R (contains violence, sexual content, profanity)
121 minutes

Pedro Almodóvar is a genius. His filmmaking isn’t the result of twisting the truth, but rather letting it flow in a Zen-like manner. His characters are natural. Everything in the plot is natural, and everything in the plot happens naturally. Almodóvar, by making his films so natural, becomes possibly the greatest genre-bender in modern cinema. It’s obvious in “Volver”. Here, we have a little bit of comedy here, a little bit of murder mystery there, a little bit of romance there, and I guess it’s a drama overall. Though the problem with the word “drama” is that it suggests a stage performance. “Volver” is a diamond in modern-day cinema.

Penélope Cruz leads the movie so well that it’s almost as if she’s doing exactly what Almodóvar’s doing: directing. We see her in the role of Raimunda, a mother living in the suburbs of Madrid. Her character is biting but caring. She and her sister Sole are in the middle of three generations of women that Almodóvar features in his film, which is equally exciting, grave, and enticing. Everything starts when Raimunda’s daughter Paula kills her drunken father in an act of defense, and Raimunda covers for her. She’s desperate to keep it a secret that her husband has been murdered, and if anyone asks, she did it herself. This isn’t a good time in her life, as she is mourning the death of her mother. But the talk of the town is that her mother’s spirit is perusing around Madrid, and it turns out that she is, in fact, alive and living with Sole.

It fascinates me that Almodóvar has such an eye for his female characters. The principal cast is female, and they’re all strong characters. (Raimunda, as a matter of fact, is a paragon for strong women characters.) As the film opens, we watch the camera pan slowly across the headstones. There’s a style established immediately, and there’s character established. Not just in the characters themselves, but in our eye of the film. We’re watching women dust off graves on a bright and sunny day. They’re not standing over the graves, staring down at them, listening to the thunder and letting the rain wash all the dirt off.

It’s at least twenty minutes through the film that a thriller is introduced into this wonderful tale, so reasonably enough, the film starts off as merely a comedy. I find that as exciting as “Volver” became, the best moments were always at the beginning. “Did you scrub the headstone properly?” Cruz is asked within the first few scenes. To which she replies, “If she could, she’d clean it herself.” The conversation is brilliantly constructed. It’s worded in a way that the subject could be dishes, or it could be headstones. But Almodóvar recognizes his female characters for miles beyond the stereotypical dishwashing role, so headstones it is.


3 thoughts on “Volver

  1. This is Pedro Almodovar’s most commercially successful film to date. It also marked the first (but not last) time Penélope Cruz would get an Oscar nomination. The competition was intense that year. Helen Mirren ultimately won the award with her flawless performance in The Queen.

    No tears though. Cruz would later win for Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008).

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