Director/Screenplay – Pedro Almodovar, Producer – Esther Garcia, Photography – Jose Luis Alcaine, Music – Alberto Iglesias, Digital Effects – El Ranchito, Visual Effects Supervisor – Eduardo Riaz, Production Design – Salvador Parra. Production Company – El Deseo S.A
Penelope Cruz (Raimunda), Carmen Maura (Irene), Lola Dueñas (Soledad), Blanca Portillo (Agustina), Yohanna Cobo (Paula), Isabel Diaz (Regina), Chus Lampreave (Aunt Paula), Antonio de la Torre (Paco), Carlos Blanco (Emilio)
Raimunda returns home to find that her teenage daughter Paula has stabbed her layabout husband Paco after he tried to molest her. The owner of the restaurant that Raimunda used to work for has left the keys to the premises in her care to show potential buyers through while he is way. Panicking at what to do, Raimunda hides the body in the freezer at the restaurant. While she is there, a man from a nearby film shoot comes and asks her to cater for the production. Raimunda takes the job, needing the money, and enjoys success. Meanwhile, Raimunda’s sister Soledad is shocked when their late mother appears to her, seemingly returned from the dead after she was burned alive in a fire several years ago. Soledad grants the mother shelter and offers her a job as a hairdressing assistant, keeping her existence secret from Raimunda and the others.
Volver comes from the acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. Almodovar first became noticed in the 1980s with his wackily frothy high camp comedies, which included the likes of Labyrinth of Passion (1983), Dark Habits (1983), Matador (1986), Law of Desire (1987), Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down (1990), High Heels (1991) and Kika (1993). In these, Almodovar delighted in causing outrage and the films come filled with heroin-addicted nuns, gay love stories, abducted prisoners falling in love with their captors and romances between rival serial killers. In the mid-1990s, Pedro Almodovar began to suffer from Woody Allen-itis. Like Woody Allen in the 1980s, Almodovar’s films began to drop the giddy silliness and become serious character studies. This was the time that Pedro Almodovar’s films also started to accrue awards attention. Almodovar’s films from this period include the likes of The Flower of My Secret (1995), All About My Mother (1999), Talk To Her (2002), Bad Education (2004) and Broken Embraces (2009). He did however more recently return to form with the fine The Skin I Live In (2011) about an obsessed surgeon who keeps a woman a prisoner in his home.
Volver received a good deal of acclaim when it came out, including the entire female cast receiving an ensemble prize at Cannes and Penelope Cruz being nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award. I must admit to being disappointed with Volver. I fail to connect with most of the intimate women’s stories that Pedro Almodovar seems to want to tell these days. His films are technically fine – well scripted, well performed – but they seem like closeted chamber dramas that are not pitched to anybody other than fans of arthouse cinema. I cannot help but think that Volver would have worked far better as an old style Pedro Almodovar film – the story about Penelope Cruz trying to hide her husband’s body but ending making a success as a caterer and the return of Carmen Maura’s ghost mother would have been hilarious as one of Almodovar’s madcap comedy of outrages. Here however the idea suffers by being played out seriously.
Certainly, all the cast give solid performances, especially Carmen Maura. Given the Cannes ensemble award, I kept expecting them to open up into something earth-shattering but this never happens. All of this award-heavy attention left one anticipating a series of career-defining performances. The fantasy element comes in the character of Carmen Maura’s mother who returns to hide with daughter Lola Dueñas and is taken for a ghost. In a surprise twist ending, Pedro Almodovar opts for a mundane resolution but she is played as being a ghost throughout the rest of the story. (This is only the second time that Almodovar has ventured into fantastical material, having previously made Matador about a necrophiliac serial killer and clairvoyant bullfighter). The twist ending is certainly slightly improbable in its contrivations, although Almodovar does bring it all together for a nice resolution – one where we see in his middle-age (Almodovar was 57 when he made Volver) that Almodovar has become a sentimentalist of all things. Volver is a nice film that works well in its eventual unfolding turns but also one that disappoints in that it never provides the big dramatic fireworks that one expects of it.
The title incidentally has nothing to do with female genitalia but is rather a Spanish word that means ‘returning’ or ‘coming back’.
In genre material, Pedro Almodovar has also produced Alex de la Iglesia’s gonzo science-fiction film Accion Mutante (1993), a Spanish version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde with My Name is Shadow (1996) and Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone (2001).