Starring: Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Duenas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo, Chus Lampreave, Antonio de la Torre, Carlos Blanco
Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar
I actually saw this a couple months ago in my pre-Oscar viewing binge, but never got around to reviewing it, since I saw so many movies in a span a few weeks that I ran out of time. Eventually, time passed and I figured I was going to skip reviewing it altogether, as details of the movie began to fade in my memory. But, since it comes out on DVD tomorrow, I figured I’d take a crack at it, if for no other reason than to say “go rent it”.
Movies like Volver are the reason I do my award-show binges at the end of the year, as it is gems like it that I would probably not get around to seeing if I didn’t become so goal-oriented. Sure, I have to sift through some dreck to get to the gems, but more often than not, the good outweighs the bad, making it worth the effort. I was somewhat interested in seeing Volver ever since I saw it advertised everywhere while in Europe in the summer, but put off seeing it until the week before the Oscars, as I had to clear out a bunch of movies that were ahead of it on my must-see list.
Part of the reason that I was only mildly interested in seeing it is that I never really found out what the movie was about. I knew it was critically-acclaimed, female-centric, foreign-language film, the kind that doesn’t usually appeal to me even though I figure it should. But the arresting colours of the movie poster and Penélope Cruz‘s best actress nomination were enough to get it on my to-see list, so I never bothered to investigate the movie’s plot after that.
Which leaves me at a bit of odds in writing this review, in that my lack of knowledge of the movie’s plot (which was increased by the woefully-inadequate write-up provided by my local movie times website) ended up leading to a pleasantly surprising viewing when the plot began to unfold. I figured the movie would be focused on the power of women, and the relationships between mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends, and it was. But I wasn’t expecting the movie to twist and turn throughout the movie in such unexpected, and at times macabre, directions, and I’d like to preserve that surprise for readers of this review, while still giving them enough to be motivated to go see it for themselves.
In that vein, I’ll say that the movie centres around Raimunda (Cruz), who quickly deals with unexpected deaths and returns (the title translates as “to return”) in her life that affect her sister Sole (Lola Dueñas), who has paranoid about death since the death of their parents years before, and her teenage daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo) in unexpected ways. Throughout, Raimunda tries to stay one step ahead of the chaos, and in doing so, manages to strengthen her relationships and her resolve.
I’ll admit, that isn’t much of a summary, but I’ve never been big into those anyway. What you need to know is that Pedro Almodóvar delivers a movie about domestic struggles that manages to be both sublime and bizarre, and in the end, heartwarming and genuine. His use of colour and love for his subjects make the movie a true delight, convincing me that I need to watch more of his movies. Cruz is a revelation here, bringing an earthy warmth and charm to Raimunda, projecting inner strength alongside true vulnerability, while holding your eyes with her natural beauty. Her performance suggests that her vacant delivery in her English-language roles is either a result of the language barrier, or Hollywood movies not having any other use for her other than her stunning looks. Almodóvar, instead, both gazes at his subject and brings her down to earth. It is a great performance amongst a cast of great performances, that makes this personal story of families engaging and far more entertaining than I expected.