Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The Power of Volver

Volver (Spanish for return) is a 2006 family drama directed by Pedro Almodovar (The Skin I Live In/Talk To Her/All About My Mother). I would describe it as both a comedy and a ghost story but the story is also realistic and moving as it deals with themes such as: love, death, abuse and loneliness. It's rated a 15, which I think is accurate as some content is quite adult and while not scary, sometimes inappropriate for young children although they may not be interested in reading the subtitles. Volver won many awards for Best Film/Best Foreign Language Film, including, along with Amelie (2001) and Slumdog Millionaire (2009) the People's Choice award for Best European Film, the third time this award was won by Pedro Almodovar.

The plot is both entirely plausible and effective, despite the film mixing slapstick comedy and farce with elements of tragedy and melodrama which could risk becoming too humorous and not believable, but instead adds to the delightful eccentricity and mood of the film. The drama is driven by the characters motivations which makes the viewer keen to understand the stories of these people's lives and the reasons for their actions. It's a  technically well-structured film, as it builds steadily throughout with moments of suspense and a dramatic climax where all is revealed. Often I find I prefer watching stand-alone films, rather than adaptations or sequels, as I have no prior expectations and can appreciate the film for itself. The 115 minutes are a good length for the story and there is nowhere the action drags or rushes itself. The basic premise is that two sisters with very different lives find that their mother has returned to resolve the conflict within the family and clear up the mysteries that have surfaced since her unusual death. Chaos ensues as the relationships are tested and the film is essentially a celebration of the beauty and power of family love. Penelope Cruz leads the cast as Raimunda and her sister Soledad (meaning solitude) is played by Lola Duenas. These two actresses have contrasting looks and personalities but their chemistry as sisters is totally solid and natural, as well as their clearly fraught relationship with their mother Irene, (Carmen Maura). Other important characters are Aunt Paula (Chus Lampreave), her neighbour and friend Agustina (Blanca Portillo) and Raimunda's daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo).

The women of Volver.

All these performances are very strong, and combined with the rest of the ensemble cast of friends, neighbours and acquaintances, create a network of female relationships throughout the plot. Narrative of events switches from woman to woman, revealing facts about previous happenings and showing how their lives are closely interlinked. The role of women in Spain is explored, in the way that the village community is contrasted to the bustle of Madrid, suggesting that traditional roles are changing. However, food and family are still shown to play a vital role in Sole and Raimunda's lives, showing how life in Spain has not changed too much and traditional values are still guarded with pride. Above all, Almodovar is commenting on the importance of meaningful relationships. The love these people have for one another enriches their lives and much of Raimunda's story line comes from her desire to protect her daughter. She works several jobs, takes care of older family members and is shown to be strong enough to deal with whatever life throws her way. Penelope Cruz' striking looks suit this character, who is confident and beautiful but capable of disposing of a full size freezer containing her husband's body on a river bank and barely breaking a sweat. She described the role as "the best gift an actress could get" and was the 2nd Spanish woman to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar.

Irene and Raimunda.

The director's focus on character is enhanced by his use of the camera, Many close-ups and mid-length shots are used, which concentrates screen time on the lives of people within the busy city. It follows them through the streets, showing how the warmth of village life has come with Raimunda and Sole to Madrid and they have made their own communities within the huge metropolis. This makes the story seem quite homey, and zoomed in on specifics, meaning less explanation is needed as the camera is present to capture the twists and turns of the plot and details of the actresses expressions. The film begins set in a graveyard, not a morbid and sombre place but busy and full of life and chatter. This entertaining twist on a gothic cliche adds to the irreverent way in which death is treated as an often inconvenient but always colourful part of life. For example: in Almodovar's native La Mancha, "the town with the highest rate of insanity per inhabitant" the preferred way to relax is grave-cleaning.

Raimunda, Paula and Sole.

You really get the sense while watching Volver that Pedro Almodovar loves and understands women. It's refreshing to see an entire movie where male characters are either secondary plot devices or negative forces, as in many films this is the extent of female roles. The passion and colour of people's everyday lives are presented as the most important thing, rather than any goals or ambitions. This film is summed up in the quote: "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." It's warm, funny and relatableas I found when watching it that I felt connected to the characters and cared deeply about their fates.

I've decided to start doing a rating system for the films I review as a way for people to quickly see whether a film is worth a watch. Volver gets 4.5 out of 5 stars, purely because it would be ridiculous to rate the first one full marks! I hope you enjoyed my review and I definitely recommend Volver. Please let me know what you thought by leaving a comment - do you love it/hate it/ want to see it? Agree/disagree with the rating?

Jessica x


  1. Love the cover :3 it's going on my watch list! i like the idea of the predominantly female storyline.

    1. Enjoy it, it's such a fantastic film with good music as well! :D

  2. I saw this a while back, and I really enjoyed it :)


    1. Thanks for your commment, I've watched it twice and loved it both times :)


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