And here I am with my second review of a film by Almodóvar after the one I wrote on All about my mother. This time I watched Volver (2006), another movie with an almost all-female cast where Penelope Cruz and Lola Dueñas stand out. Did I like it? Let’s say that I was entertained thanks to the movie’s unstoppable rhythm from beginning to end, but I continue to have reservations about the Almodovarian world, which I am afraid it’s not really suited to my taste.
What’s in Volver? Volver means to return in Spanish. In this film, this may be referred to a number of things. Mainly, I think that it refers to the past that we can not escape from, a past that always comes back even if we try to escape it. And the past comes back also in the form of lives that are repeated, with past violence re-emerging in the present to guide the actions of the new generations similarly to what happened to previous generations. But it may also refer to returning to the key places of the lives of the protagonists: the small village of the Mancha left by the two sisters Cruz and Dueñas when they went to live in Madrid; the cemetery where their parents are buried; the river so dear to Cruz’ husband (Antonio de la Torre, recently seen in the interesting Tarde para la ira, 2016, and in the unexciting Abracadabra, 2017). And then there is the recurring theme of returning from the afterlife, with various dialogues on how the ghosts of loved ones can return to affect our lives.
In short, this movie touches upon several themes, Almodóvar clearly thought a lot about what he wanted to say with his work. The representation of the La Mancha village is amazing, with the widows taking care of the cemetery, the funeral attended by the whole community, apparently united but in reality with everyone ready to take advantage of the misfortunes of the others. And then the film also shows us the weakest parts of our society: not only all the main protagonists are women (either old women or adolescents in difficult family contexts), but we follow precarious workers, immigrants without residence permits, prostitutes…
This is definitely the most interesting part of the film. Moreover, Almodóvar gives us beautiful shots, helped by a well done and colorful cinematography. There are lots of imaginative shots to animate even the most trivial actions, such as cutting peppers in a kitchen or loading a fridge in a van (clearly, the director had a lot of fun with overhead shots).
But… yes, there is a “but”. Because even if from the beginning we know that the birthplace of almost everyone in the film has the highest incidence in Spain of mental illness (because of the strong wind, they say), many things happen that make no sense at all. I asked myself too many times “what is going on?” And I know that I must accept all this because the Almodovarian world is a set in an alternate reality, a bit like the Tarantinian world where you can carry a katana as your hand baggage on a plane.
OK, I accept that. But… and here come the spoilers… How does an aged lady live for three and a half years hidden in a house without ever leaving it? How does a man disappear without anyone looking for him even if by mistake? Why does Penelope Cruz suddenly start working in the (closed) restaurant near her house, since she already had another job? After the believed-dead mother reappears, how come the first question to her is not “weren’t you dead?”, but rather is “So are you going to sleep in the guest room?”? And so on…
In short, when watching this movie the viewer must accept an alternative world where things which would be unacceptable in the real world simply happen. Is this a problem? As always with the suspension of disbelief, it is a problem only if distracts the viewer from what happens on the screen. Almodóvar’s accent is on interpersonal relationships, not on the plot, though, and this helps the film which, as mentioned, has an incredible rhythm and works perfectly thanks to it. But too many times I found myself wondering aloud “Why? Why is this happening?”, and it did not help me to fully appreciate the film.
Perhaps watching the film accepting previously that you are entering the particular Almodovarian world can help. Volver works in many ways, has lots of interesting messages, and develops many themes in a very profound way. But I’m still not 100% convinced! Ciao!