So after watching The Skin I Live In a couple of weeks back I thought I’d chuck another Almodovar on my Lovefilm rental list. I chose Volver because I’d never seen the whole film and would you look at what they’ve sent me already. Don’t worry Lovefilm, those games and older film picks are just there for show. Anyway, been wanting to sit and watch this properly for some time, and now I have. As a bonus this film has Penelope Cruz in it. How is that a bonus you say? Well it’s a bonus for me.
Like a lot of Almodovar’s films the plot here isn’t as straight forward as a simple one line synopsis. Much like The Skin I Live In, Volver mixes genres a little and concentrates a lot more on the characters than what would be considered the main plot in a Western produced film. The plot of Volver concerns Raimunda (Penelope Cruz) and her daughter Paula (Yohanna Cobo) who have recently returned from a visit to their aunts with Raimunda’s sister Sole (Lola Duenas). When Raimunda and Paula return home we see that life isn’t entirely sweet for them. Money is tight and Raimunda’s husband Paco (Antonio De La Torre) has just lost his job and, possibly more worryingly, pays a little too much attention to Paula. The next day when Raimunda returns home she finds Paula to be a bit of wreck, and with good reason. In an act of self defence Paula has killed Paco and now her an Raimunda need to find a way to hide the body and get on with their lives.
If this was your average US film the plot would have likely stopped there. This being Almodovar though means that there’s a lot more going on and that plot only becomes an element against the real character growth and discovery. I was once told that a major difference between US and European films was that in a US film we’re generally told a story that moves from a definite point A to a definite point B. A plot that has a single goal and it heads straight for it. European cinema on the other hand might have elements of that but in general they’re more about a period of time in the lives of the characters as they learn more about themselves. Obviously that doesn’t go for all films but it’s a pretty good description of what Volver is.
At its core Volver is about life, death, family and women. Like a lot of Almodovar’s films really. For a gay man he sure loves women. Maybe he’s a closet straight man? Anyway, as this film progresses Raimunda and Sole’s aunt dies and Sole goes to her wake. Raimunda is obviously a little busy with the dead body hiding and her current sort of theft of a restaurant Whilst at her aunts Sole sees her long dead mother. The people in the village have been saying that her aunt was living with a ghost you see. When Sole gets home she finds this ghost of her mother hiding in her cars trunk. So now we have a sub plot about a ghost, that oddly everyone can see and touch, and her possible need for closure. As for that restaurant, well Raimunda has been left the keys by owner while a seller is to be found, so naturally she hides the body in a freezer in there. Reference to Japanese thriller The Freezer perhaps? Which was actually a modern take on Hitchcock’s Rope. To add to the complexities Raimunda is now using the restaurant to cater for a local film crew in order to make some money on the side. Hence the possible restaurant theft I mentioned earlier.
Do you see how all this is stacking up? Almodovar loves to pile on layers and layers and the fact that he can do this without once damaging the films plot, characters or pacing is testament to just how good he is. You’d think this many plot threads would be leading to a cluster-fuck of a film. Volver couldn’t be further from it. It’s a beautifully written, smoothly paced and very well shot piece of Spanish cinema. Easily up there amongst his best films.
The dialogue in Volver is especially good. Almodovar has a knack for writing women that are full of character and charm without them ever not feeling like real people. The characters all have their own little flaws that are all woven into their individual character arcs. Just like with the Skin I Live in there’s a penny dropping moment too that slots that final piece of the puzzle into why Raimunda is the woman she is. Why she was a distant from her mother in her teenage years. Why she helps cover up the killing of her husband. Why she can’t be allowed to see the ghost of her mother until the right time. I would say what film that penny dropping moment reminded me of but I’d risk spoiling another film there. This is honestly one of Almodovar’s most perfectly delicately written scripts yet. I would suggest studying it if you could speak Spanish.
Volver is another one of those films that many directors would have struggled to have pulled off. This is the work of an actual auteur. A director who makes sure the films he is making are his and are maybe as much about him as they are its characters. I would have liked there to have been a little more for Sole to do other than hide her mother and cut hair to be honest but that’s a minor issue when the rest of the film is so tightly woven as it is. If my review has maybe interested you in Almodovar’s work then I do suggest this as a good starting point. But make sure you pick up All About My Mother too. And Matador… and Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down… actually just buy his boxed sets.