Volver (Sony Pictures Classics, R)

cruz What's most fascinating about Almodóvar's women is that, despite being the sole protagonists, they do not function as the active characters. They are women who exist in a patriarchal, extremely Catholic society, yet Almodóvar seems less concerned with what has happened to them as much as he is in how they react.

 

 

volver

Ever since Pedro Almodóvar won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2000 for All About My Mother, critics appear to be jumping all over one another proclaiming his latest to be his indisputable masterpiece. I'm not going to throw any bold statements like that upon Volver, but I can report that it certainly holds up to the promise he's made for us since 2000. Crafting a world similar to Mother where men are really unnecessary, Almodóvar opens Volver with a lovely pan across a windy cemetery where herds of women are congregating to ceremonially dust and clean the gravesites of their loved ones. The camera stops upon a trio of women, Raimunda (Penélope Cruz), her sister Sole (Lola Dueñas), and her daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo), who are cleaning off the grave of the matriarch of the family, Irene (Carmen Maura), who died in a fire. Something strange begins brewing, as it seems as though Irene has returned from the dead to care for her dying sister (Chus Lampreave) and settle unfinished scores from her lifetime.

Few will argue that Almodóvar's forte is his ladies, his women on the verge—terribly beautiful in their worst of moments. His camera adores these women in every frame, making them as glamorous and beautiful as possible even when cleaning up the dead body of their husband. While Volver is most notable for the first collaboration between Almodóvar and the wonderful Maura since Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, it's really Cruz, who played supporting roles in his Live Flesh and All About My Mother, who commands the screen. Forever plagued with lousy English-language film roles and bad taste in Hollywood men, Cruz emerges as one of the great Almodóvar women, alongside Maura, Victoria Abril, and Cecilia Roth. As the cold, been-around-the-block Raimunda, Cruz's incredible performance can best be found within her eyes, unable to hide her sorrow and secrets within them like she has with the rest of her body. What's most fascinating about Almodóvar's women is that, despite being the sole protagonists, they do not function as the active characters. They are women who exist in a patriarchal, extremely Catholic society, yet Almodóvar seems less concerned with what has happened to them as much as he is in how they react. Whether the characters are cooking, doing dishes, cleaning, crying, or flirting, Almodóvar's camera finds truth and beauty in his women, placing them in desperate situations and letting them flourish.

Volver may not be as layered with wonderful surprise as Talk to Her or Bad Education, but its transparency doesn't hinder the film. Almodóvar is a wonderful storyteller (along with a collective best actress prize, Volver also won Almodóvar a best screenplay award at Cannes this year), and while Volver evokes rather familiar emotions, the director expresses them in ways that feel fresh and vibrant. Raimunda's secrets and Irene's guilt do not come as complete shocks, but it's the redemption, not the issue at hand, with which Almodóvar concerns himself. I could potentially see avid Almodóvar fans a tad disappointed with Volver as it's quiet, subtle Pedro, something uncommon for him. Whether you're going to proclaim Volver as Almodóvar's masterpiece or not, it's hard not to rank this heartfelt, gorgeous film among his best. | Joe Bowman

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