Volver (Pedro Almodóvar, 2006)


Penélope Cruz (Raimunda), Lola Dueñas (Sole), Carmen Maura (Irene), Blanca Portillo (Agustina). Screenplay by Pedro Almodóvar. Directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Rating: 15. Running time: 121 minutes.

Volver is a special species of film, very different from Talk to Her, All About My Mother, Broken Embraces and any other member of the older Almodóvar’s oeuvre. It still bursts with vibrant colour, in an even more uplifting tone than any of his other films. But what’s different is the lack of sexual deviancy plastered all over the plot, and its sense of humour almost returning us to the lighter Almodóvar of the 80s.

This is a pure matriarchy fest, and it’s delightful. I count three men with dialogue in the film: Raimunda’s pedophiliac husband, who’s stabbed to death by his daughter after five minutes of screen time; the local restaurant owner, who hands the keys to Raimunda before taking a trip to Barcelona; and the director of a film crew, who provides business in the form of buffet lunches in the restaurant that Raimunda cheekily takes over. Women are everywhere, and where you’d expect men to be moving a fridge freezer across the street, it’s the former sex in control and working in groups to get things done. Raimunda is like a machine, dealing simultaneously with the death of her aunt, murder of her husband and the cooking of lunch for 30, all whilst shuffling two other part time jobs. There’s an indescribably magical scene with a tracking shot following her uphill in this small Spanish village, as she drags a wheeled bag full of food and bumps into two friends who have conveniently bought a few kilos of pork and cookies from out of town in the past few days. She convinces them they would do well to diet, and sell it to her for the buffet instead.

Whilst the magic performance, and stunning visuals, stem from Penélope, the quality of the story is indebted to the return of Raimunda’s mother. She apparently died, but reappears one day in the boot of her other daughter’s car. This happens so naturally that it’s a wonder how Almodóvar pulls these ludicrous plots off. The relationship begins to rebloom as Raimunda concurrently waltzes around her world of work and corpse removal. The latter is not reunited with her mother until very late on, but to get the privilege of Carmen Maura and Penélope exchanging lines within a single Almodóvar film is a moment to cherish. It would be like getting De Niro and DiCaprio together under the guidance of Scorsese.

It’s remarkable just how light Volver is, not only in an aesthetic sense, but also with regards to how its feel overcomes its dark overtones of death and remains so joyful throughout. Never will the mopping up of blood flowing from a stab wound come across as such a beautiful and tranquil experience. Never will you feel so calm about the digging of a hole in a forest to dump a corpse in, a scene I thought the gangster film held exclusive rights over. Hitchcock would be proud of how the extraordinary becomes ordinary here. In the hands of Almodóvar, what should be extreme events arousing shock and horror are naturalised into this. Volver is a work of true genius, coming across as purely effortless.

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