Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Volver: Life among the women

In Volver, Pedro Almodovar continues his ever-deeper explorations into the world of women. Women are the keepers of secrets; they are the dependable workers upon whom the family depends. They support and encourage each other, and are each others' best audiences. All this is explicit in his earlier films, but perhaps never so seriously as in Volver.

Which doesn't mean the film is a weepie without any fun. Penelope Cruz plays Raimunda, whom we meet when she and her sister Sole (Lola Duenas, underplaying skillfully) and Raimunda's adolescent daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo, the youngest of the ladies) are cleaning off the graves of their parents in a country graveyard. The wind blows continously and ominously (in these Santa Ana days, Angelinos can relate). The scene is ironic and funny, as women of all shapes and sizes, many wearing Almodovar's near-trademark polka dots--albeit in solemn black and white--hurry to defy the wind and sweep off the huge marble slabs.

A visit to their ancient Aunt Paula (Chus Lampreave, a veteran of small roles in numerous Almodovar films) in their ancestral town nearby raises some questions, and when the trio return to their shabby apartments in a town near Madrid, the story continues to unfold. I won't describe any more of the plot, although some reviewers have, for fear of giving any of the secrets away; they are there for you to figure out or not, or wait to be told. But when Irene, the mother of Raimunda and Sole, appears in ghostly form as a very real Carmen Maura, mayhem of various sorts and intensity ensues.

What I want to comment on are a few notable aspects of Volver:
  • Penelope Cruz is, as advertised, notable in this film. What I saw was that, for the first time--and despite other decent performances--she is allowing herself to play a woman, not a girl. Raimunda is beautiful, but she doesn't flirt; of course, she dresses to enhance her cleavage, but she has deeper concerns in mind.
  • I nearly subtitled this review "Women moving heavy objects," because they do, alone and together, in this film. This is a very real detail that Almodovar depicts in all its tiresome detail. (A friend and I moved her dining room table last summer, up and down stairs and in and out of a truck. Not a pretty sight.)
  • Carmen Maura, reconciled with Almodovar, is amazing. In our first sight of her, she has long gray hair and a complexion made up to look decrepit; after color and a haircut from her daughter Sole, she looks much younger. I will admit that I panicked when I first saw Maura because she looked so OLD--until I reasoned that Women on the Verge, when I first saw her, was made more than 20 years ago. Maura is now 61, and looks it; she hasn't had work done, more power to her, nor has she stopped working. Here, she is so much the master of every scene she is in, her mischievous grin and goggle eyes detracting not a bit from the serious matters she has returned to resolve.
  • There's a lot of food in this film. When Penelope Cruz chops red peppers, they seem dewier and sexier than any red peppers that, say, I have every chopped.

All in all, Volver is a serious but not heavyhearted journey ever deeper into the world of Pedro Almodovar, an excursion that might take a tissue or two, but one that isn't without its quirky amusements.

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