Volver – the film
At Cannes the Best Actress Award was given to “a family of actresses”, to the six actresses in Pedro Almodovar’s film Volver: Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Chus Lampreave, Yohana Cobo and Blanca Portillo. Almodovar was given the award for Best Script.
I find myself waiting for films and books with certain signatures. This was my first chance to see Pedro Almodovar’s latest film, Volver. And it was an experience well worth waiting for. In fact, as soon as I can I’m going to see it again.
This is a colourful, vivacious offering; an ensemble piece around a group of women in and around La Mancha, the old stomping ground of the film’s director, but perhaps better known as the site of the exploits of Don Quixote. Volver means to come back, or return. Almodovar says:
Volver is a meeting of “Mildred Pierce” and “Arsenic and Old Lace”, combined with the surrealistic naturalism of my fourth film, “¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto!!” (“What have I done to Deserve This?”), that is, Madrid and its lively working-class neighbourhoods, where the immigrants from the various Spanish provinces share dreams, lives and fortune with a multitude of ethnic groups and other races. At the heart of this social framework, three generations of women survive wind, fire and even death, thanks to goodness, audacity and a limitless vitality.
The plot revolves around a group of women of all ages, relating to each other across generations, separations and misunderstandings. The men in the film are marginal. Many of them are dead, already in the cemetery. The opening scene tells us that men mostly die early in this region of Spain. But the women remain, muddling through their lives, bonding and learning to rely on themselves and each other.
Penélope Cruz is centre-stage for most of the film. And this is the part for which she will be remembered more than any other. She is anxious to dispose of the body of her husband and doesn’t shrink from the task. At the same time she is busy bravely protecting her young daughter, putting food on the table, and taking care of her wider family, her sister, her aunt, her friends and neighbours.
This is a film not to be missed. It’s a comic drama about women’s problems and how they face up to them, ignore them, put them in deep-freeze or, together, using great ingenuity, strength and humour, overcome whatever is put in their path. . .
. . . I left it a few days and went to see the film again. I don’t understand Spanish and watching the film for the first time I missed a lot by reading the sub-titles. The second time I just let it wash over me.
I was struck by the contrasts, the colour and vivacity of Raimunda (the Cruz character) with the old Spanish streets, the brightness of her clothes with those of the black-clad mourners at the wake, the food and the feast at the restaurant with the way that Sole (Raimunda’s sister) is almost devoured at the funeral.
It reminded me again of Pound’s dictum about the natural object always being the adequate symbol. Placing the body of Paco, which is Raimunda’s biggest problem, in cold storage until she can get around to dealing with it is a master stroke.
And those wind-turbines littering the plain of La Mancha. When Sancho Panza interfered with Don Quixote’s battle against the windmills, he obviously had no idea what he was doing. The old knight must have known that they were about to multiply and take over the landscape of his beloved country.
I have no hesitation in recommending this film. I don’t care what you’ve seen her do before or what you’ve heard about her, you will become an instant fan of Penélope Cruz. Volver works on almost every level. The plot, the acting and direction, the cinematography, and for once the music is right.
Oh, yes, one other thing. In most of the reviews I’ve read of the film, the critics seem to believe there is a ghost in there. But there isn’t.