Director: Pedro Almodóvar (Talk to Her, All About My Mother, Bad Education)
Writer: Pedro Almodóvar
Producer: Esther García
Starring: Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 121 min
read my spoiler disclaimer

by Andrew James
     Though probably not Almodóvar's best effort, it certainly is an enjoyable one that is satisfying by the time the closing credits roll, although it takes us on more than one tangential trip to get there. Imagining an absurd Hitchcockian thriller with a dash of comedy would help to explain the look and feel of this film.

      Most of Almodóvar's films are centered on and geared towards women. Volver is no exception. The film focusses on three generations of women and the emphasis of what it means to be a mother and a daughter and a sister was not lost on me. At times, it even borders on being blatantly anti-men. Raimunda (Cruz) is the main protagonist who plays the feisty mother and sister and daughter. The plot runs simultaneously in so many different directions that it's difficult to succinctly say what the movie is really about. There's a death in the family, a murder with the subsequent effort of getting rid of the body, a friend in the hospital, the illegal running of a restaurant and a huge surprise that is really the essence of the whole film that I don't really want to give away. But suffice it to say, this is the point where absudity takes over - but most definitely in a good way.

      Though there's a lot to cover, Almodóvar brings each path of storyline together very well and it's amazing that it doesn't crumble into a mess of plot and wasted talent. There are few writer/directors out there who would be able to pull this off as well as Almodóvar has. The quiet intensity in each scene brings about a sense of suspense that I can't quite put my finger on. But suffice it to say, each event will keep you interested to see what happens next.

      The performances by everyone involved are remarkable. I don't want to single her out, as everyone was fantastic, but especially Penélope Cruz. Maybe it's because she has the most screen time, maybe it's because she is given the most to deal with on her plate with the amount of emotion and expression and tone shift required of her, or maybe it's the fact that I am hoping she will be my wife one day. Whatever it is, her presence on screen is glorious and the Oscar buzz she's been receiving is deserved. However, because the competition is very tough this year (as usual) and because the movie is in Spanish, it's doubtful the Academy will award her with a win. Unfortunate.

      Almodovar loves his use of color; and so do I. Though the story focusses mainly on death, abuse and confusion, the ultimate reward and message by the closing act is complete joy. Therefore the entire film is extremely colorful and bright; from the costumes to the set design. As corny as it sounds, the entire film is like a flower that blossoms slowly and finally bursts forth with color and vibrancy. The plot is the life of the flower; it grows through seasons of happiness and pain, and life just goes on and on until it finally becomes something worth looking at.

      A true arthouse drama which focusses on mainly women's issues and motherhood (as most of Almodóvar's films), it is unlikely that it will gain much exposure with mainstream America. It's too bad too, because I think many would find this film amusingly absurd and a poignantly interesting piece of film that is captivating in its seemingly complex storyline and its outstanding performances and direction. If one can dismiss the annoyance of subtitles and the fact that it is just about 15 minutes too long, Volver is a very rewarding experience - especially for middle aged women. Watch for some aspects of this film to be recognized at the Oscars in early '07.

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IMDb.com - full cast and crew
Official Site