Volver stars Penelope Cruz as Raimunda, a late 20s mother of a 14 year old daughter named Paula (Yohana Cobo – whose fantastic hair is practically another character in the film). Raimunda’s sister Sole is played by Lola Duenas. Raimunda’s and Sole’s Aunt Paula is played by Chus Lampreave. The next door neighbor of the aunt, and friend of the family, is Agustina, played by Blanca Portillo. Finally, actress Carmen Maura reunites with Almodovar after the two had a falling out almost 20 years prior. She had been a star of some of his earlier films, such as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. I can’t say who she plays in Volver without spoiling something, though.
You may have noticed that all the characters are female. Anyone looking for well-rounded male characters will be disappointed by this film. The only male character with any appreciable screen time is completely one dimensional. He likes drinking beer, watching sports, and having sex. He quickly ends up dead and really functions more as a MacGuffin to drive part of the plot.
The actresses, though, were given some rich characters to play. The entire cast was awarded the Best Actress award at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. Cruz received a well deserved Academy Award nomination for Best Actress – the first Spanish woman to get such an honor. She didn’t win, but no one was going to beat Helen Mirren for The Queen that year. Anyone who has only seen Cruz in English language movies has not seen her at her best. Much like Antonio Banderas in the recent film The Skin I Live In, Almodovar seems to bring out the best in his cast.
The film opens with Raimunda, Sole, and Paula having traveled from
back to the small village that Raimunda and Sole came from. They are cleaning the grave of their mother and father, who died in a fire four years earlier. While there they run into old friend Agustina, who has been looking after their Aunt Paula from time to time. They stop to see Aunt Paula and she only recognizes Raimunda, who had lived with her for a while as a teen while estranged from her parents. Aunt Paula’s mind is going, so after an uncomfortable visit they go next door to visit with Agustina. She has a sister in Madrid who is trying to get the two of them on television to tell the sad story of how their hippie mother ran out on them four years earlier. Madrid
Once back in
, Sole drops Raimunda and daughter Paula off at their house. Raimunda’s husband Paco (Antonio de la Torre) is watching sports and drinking beer. Later he wants to have sex, but Raimunda doesn’t want to. In less than 24 hours he will be dead. Raimunda and Paula have a mother/daughter bonding moment over moving the dead body. It just so happens that the owner of the restaurant next door is going on a long trip and he has left the keys with Raimunda to let prospective buyers in so they can see it in his absence. Paco is soon a Paco-sicle in the restaurant’s freezer. Madrid
You might think that this storyline would dominate the movie; that it would focus on whether someone would find out, on the guilt weighing down the women, on a crafty detective getting closer and closer to the truth. This is Almodovar, though. This storyline isn’t the main plot of the movie. It’s really just one of several subplots running through the film.
The same night that Raimunda and Paula are dealing with Paco, they get a call from Sole that their Aunt Paula has died. For obvious reasons, Raimunda can’t go back for the funeral, but she can’t tell Sole why. Sole goes back to the village alone and gets a tremendous shock. She now has her own secret she needs to keep from Raimunda.
In addition, a movie crew is in Raimunda’s neighborhood and they are looking for a place to feed their people every day. Raimunda, who works multiple jobs and is just getting by, sees an opportunity to use the restaurant to make some quick cash. Soon she is hosting 30 people for lunch every day – all while Paco is still chillin’ in the freezer. If this wasn’t enough, Agustina comes to
to see a doctor. It turns out she has cancer. The only thing she wants before she dies is to find out where her missing mother is. She makes Raimunda promise to help her do this. Madrid
I’ve seen a couple of complaints that there are actually too many different plots going on in the film. I don’t necessarily agree with this. I didn’t have trouble following what was going on, and believe it or not, they do end up all tying together with events back in the village. By the way, Volver translates as “to return” and this applies to multiple situations, with multiple meanings, in the film.
Almodovar shot some of the film in
La Mancha where he grew up. That region is probably most famous for Don Quixote, who tilted at windmills in the classic Cervantes story. Several times in Volver characters are shown driving by a large wind farm with modern windmills as a nod to this. Almodovar also shot Cruz in the style of Italian mothers from classic 50s/60s movies – curvy, big hips, big boobs, “some meat on their bones”. People wondered if Cruz, ahem, enhanced her boobs because they seem larger. In actuality, it was Cruz’s butt that Almodovar had her pad to give her more of a motherly look. Cruz put on a little bit of weight for the role and this is what helped fill everything else out.
From comments I’ve read I think the people who were disappointed by this film were the ones expecting it to be more of a thriller focusing on a murder investigation, not on the interrelationships of all these women. Those people found the movie boring. I didn’t. In fact, I liked it quite a bit, so for everyone else, I highly recommend this film.
Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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