Pedro Almodovar is one of the big, big stars of modern foreign cinema, and along with names like Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo Del Toro, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, he is one of the serious auteurs showing why Spanish language cinema is, in my opinion, the the king of foreign cinema. If there is one over-riding theme of Almodovar’s films, it is to show strong women. His understated meditation on the lengths that women will go to protect their family is no exception and with 2006’s Volver, Pedro added another great film to his repertoire.
Volver follows the story of two sisters, Raimunda (Penelope Cruz in one of the best roles of her career) and Soledad (Lola Duenas). One night, Raimunda’s daughter, Paula (Yohana Cobo), kills her father in self defense because the father was trying to rape her. The film chronicles her attempts to cover up the murder and protect her family. Also, to complicate matters, the ghost of Raimunda’s mother appears to Soledad wanting forgiveness for prior misdeeds. I won’t give away any more of the plot because part of the joy of the film is unraveling the many different story threads and seeing how they all come tumbling back towards each other.
The film’s title is very significant. “Volver” means “to return” in Spanish and is also the title of a traditional Spanish song that Penelope sings later in the film. One of the main themes of the film is returning back to the past, whether that past is family or past trauma or simply memories. It also refers to how the past returns to the present and perhaps we are all just living in the cycle that others have lived for thousands of years. This is an artistic and symbolic film and a lot of pleasure can be gained from picking apart the themes and different little meanings hidden within. Hell, the opening shot of a large group of widows cleaning their own future graves helps to reinforce the fatalistic nature of the film.
The acting in the film is stellar. Penelope Cruz is incredibly irritating in English-speaking roles but when she acts in her native tongue, she is a stellar and beautiful actress. I can definitely see why she was nominated for an Oscar for this film. Carmen Maura was also scene-stealing as the mother. If you can handle an under-stated family dramedy, you should really check this out.
Final Score: A-