After building his incredibilly successful career through productions focused basically on the feminine universe, Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar (one of my all-time favorites), made in his last two films stories that are centered in an more masculin look, resulting on the great Talk to Her (Hable con ella) and the exceptional Bad Education(La Mala Educación). In Volver, however, Almodóvar returns to the world of women with his so very particular talent and sensibility, and in this process, he also returns to one of his most distinguisehd trademarks, his colors, whose intensity is equally proportional to the feelings that they represent.
In a world which men are usually seen (logically) under a negative shine, Raimunda (Penelope Cruz, who should stick to Spanish cinema) is a hard-working woman, who does the impossible to take care of her family: her teenage daughter, Paula (Yohana Cobo) and her useless husband who seems to see the girl with a bit more interest than usually a father sees a daughter. In the meantime, Raimunda's sister, the lonely Sole (Lola Dueñas, in another great moment of her career) survives thanks to her illegal beauty salon, in her own house, and also makes frequent visits to their hometown, to visit their mother's grave, Irene (the legend Carmen Maura), who has been dead for a few years in a fire who also took the life of Raimunda and Sole's father. When their old aunt dies though, Sole is surprised by what seems to be the visit of her mother's ghost, who moves in to her house, while still trying to solve some affairs left behind (of which is to be close once again with Raimunda, who had been away from her mother a few years before her death. All this though, might not be all that simple, since Raimunda is sufficientely worried with hiding her husband's dead body, killed by Paula, after he tried to attack the girl.
After reading the paragraph above, it's possible that some people might think that Volver is a heavy film and deeply dramatic, but that would only indicate, obviously, lack of familiarity with the universe created by Almodóvar, who is a specialist in making humor (absurdly many times) out of situations that other filmmakers would chose to use pain and suffering. ALways more interested in the relationships between his characters, the Spanish director shows almost an obsession by the strong ties of friendship (and occasional rivalries) made by women, whose proximity from one-another stablishes real sisterhoods who work as a protection (or at least a support group) against men's brutal acts. When Almodóvar shows a semi-circle formed by women dressed in black, he's at the same time exposing the curious grace of the situation and reinforcing his vision that there's something unreachable bonding those women, either the suffering, either sensibility or the common interpretation that life is constantly hard and unfair. Anothe example is when a known person asks Raimunda what is that red stain in her face, she answers almost as a reflex: "women problem". An answer that under a comic sight, hides the much more dramatic truth, that after all, it's her deceased husband's blood. Finally, it's important to notice that the director doesn't ignore also the sensual feminility of his characters, since he constantly shows them in closed shots, parts of their bodies that are constantly linked to the seductive nature of women: breasts, thighs, and so on. It's not a coincidence though, that Italian actress Anna Magnani, an undisputed symbol of the strength of women's natural beauty, appears on the TV at a certain moment of the story.
Going with remarkable security between the most different genres, Almodóvar keeps the spectator always surprised thanks to the sudden changes on the tone of the story-telling, that, ins spite of it, keeps beautifully beliaveble, proving the talent of the director and his hsbitual collaborator, the editor José Salcedo: in a particular moment, we follow the shock of a girl after killing her own father, in another, we are tense notecing that by not having a car, Raimunda and her daughter are forced to take the body clumsily to the streets and, finally, we laugh of the absurd coolness in which the main character accepts making a big meal for a group of people, while she keeps her husband's body hidden nearby.
And, of course, the mood truely nonsense of the supernatural subplot involving Irene's ghost, an apparison that surprisingly worries itself in dying her hair and acts like it was absolutely natural reappearing in her daughter's lives five years after her death, and it is even more appropriate that the character is played by the brillianf Carmen Maura, who returns to the "Almodóvar world" after almost twenty years (their last film together was in Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown in 1988). The same way, Lola Dueñas gives a huge charisma to Sole (as she does to all of her characters), what makes the public to identify themselves in her frailties and aspirations. Yohanna Cobo doesn't get intimidated by acting by the side of such experienced actresses. And if Blanca Portillo brings the necessary melancoly to the film, Penélope Cruz appears as a real force of nature (once again the comparison with Anna Magnani justifyes itself):she's not only very beautiful, but also finally gives once again an admirable performance after so many dissappointments in the American cinema, such as Bandidas, Gothika and Vanilla Sky. She was a little better in the Italian Non ti muovere, what maybe shows her insecurity when she act in English. Though bitter because of her past traumas, Raimunda is a decided woman, and don't waste much time crying over something or someone, taking always the initiative of making things right. The scene where she listens to herself singing a song, after so many years is one of the most touching, eventhough the dubbing is very obvious in the wrong choise for the singing voice, whose tone is much different of Penélope's.
Still including a very appropriate criticism to the costummary exploitation that TV shows make on personal dramas, doing to the lowest things in the battle for ratings, Volver has a script (written by Almodóvar himself) that ties very well the lose ends (even the subplots). Even that one of the final revelations isn't exactly "surprising", at least they're not presented as such, appearing then, with naturality and enough reliability.
Volver stablishes itself as a work that shows the security of a film maker even more mature and that has total control of the language that he helped develop in the last 30 years.