An Entertaining Movie From One of Today's Best Filmmakers
Penélope Cruz received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her performance in Volver (2006), an enjoyable Spanish-language film written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar (Bad Education, Talk to Her, All About My Mother). A highly original work that is perfectly accessible to mainstream audiences, Volver is a humanistic melodrama. Although the story involves murder, child abuse and a corpse in a freezer, the movie is awash in bright colors, there's lots of humor and the overarching tone is optimistic.
The film focuses on a pair of adult sisters, their mother and the 14-year-old daughter of one of the sisters. All the important characters in the movie are female, but they are tough-minded, and there's no sappiness. Volver is one of the best ensemble pieces you'll ever see, and in addition to Penélope Cruz, the cast includes Carmen Maura (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) and Lola Dueñas (The Sea Within). At Cannes, the jury recognized the unfairness of singling out any one of Volver's six principal actresses as giving the best performance, so the festival's Best Actress award was shared by all six.
An Outstanding Screenplay Filled With Quirky Incidents
Volver's memorable opening shot is of women cleaning the tombstones in a windswept cemetery in the La Mancha region of Spain. The camera settles in on Raimunda (Penélope Cruz) and her sister Sole (Lola Dueñas) cleaning the grave of their mother (Carmen Maura) and father. Raimunda and Sole's parents died in a fire a few years earlier, and the mystery surrounding that incident drives the plot. The story is clever and satisfying, and it's not surprising that at Cannes Almodóvar won the prize for Best Screenplay.
Only part of Volver takes place in La Mancha, with most of the film set in a working-class neighborhood in Madrid, where Raimunda toils away at a variety of menial jobs. One of the movie's key story threads concerns the aftermath of her finding her husband lying dead in a pool of blood. She quickly stashes the deceased in a restaurant freezer, and Almodóvar makes the details fascinating as to how she eventually manages to accomplish a fitting disposition of the body.
A Classic Tango and a Reference to Anna Magnani
In the middle of the movie Volver, the 1935 tango titled "Volver" is sung at a film crew party. Penélope Cruz lip-synchs the song, and the voice heard is that of flamenco singer Estrella Morente. The Spanish word "volver" translates into English as "to return" or "coming back" and expresses the major theme of both the song and the movie.
Near the end of the film Volver, Raimunda's mother (Carmen Maura) is seen watching a subtitled movie on television. That movie, which is in Italian, is Luchino Visconti's Bellissima (1951), and the actress shown is Anna Magnani, arguably the earthiest leading lady in screen history. Almodóvar's intent is to evoke a parallel between Magnani's persona and the way Penélope Cruz plays Raimunda in Volver.
The Volver DVD provides five featurettes with a total run time of 50 minutes. Perhaps the most interesting of these is the 18-minute "Tribute to Penélope Cruz," which is actually an English-language interview of the actress by Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan at the 2006 AFI Fest. She claims that when she was 12 years old she saw Almodóvar's Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and immediately decided to become a movie actress. She and Turan briefly discuss the prosthetic device she wears in Volver, and she says that was used because Almodóvar wanted Raimunda to have big hips as a result of giving birth at age 13.
Also on the DVD are three interviews conducted by an unidentified European-sounding woman who asks convoluted questions. The best of the three is the 10-minute interview of Almodóvar, who says he is originally from the La Mancha region and enjoyed working on Volver because "I'm talking about the women I was raised by, who truly shaped me." The eight-and-a-half-minute interview of Carmen Maura is not bad, and when asked to characterize Volver, she responds, "I think it's a comedy." In addition, there's a so-so five-and-a-half minute interview of Penélope Cruz.
Finally, the DVD contains an eight-minute making-of featurette. It's nothing more than a montage of footage shot during production. The montage is accompanied by music, with only a few seconds of spoken words.
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