Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar | 130 minutes | drama, comedy, adventure | Actors: Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo, Chus Lampreave, Antonio de la Torre, Carlos Blanco, Mª Isabel Díaz, Nieves Sanz Escobar, Leandro Rivera, Yolanda Ramos, Carlos García Cambero, Pepa Aniorte, Elvira Cuadrupani, Alfonsa Rosso, Fanny de Castro, Eli Iranzo, Magdalena Broto, Isabel Ayucar, Concha Galán, Marie Franç Torres, Natalia Roig
The most important thing that keeps returning in the film (the title “Volver” is derived from this) is the return of the spirit of the mother, appearing to her daughters. Belief in these ghostly apparitions is a normal phenomenon in the environment where Almodovar grew up. In the La Mancha region, belief in these paranormal matters is still there. Almodovar does not believe in it himself, but found it intriguing for his film. It has become a great starting point for a story about both the death and the physical return of the spirit of the deceased. In itself such a fact could quickly lead to a somewhat hazy film with occult situations, but this film by no means turned out to be. Almodovar consciously opted for further elaboration in a comedy-like setting. Those humorous elements, in which a corpse is haunted in a showy manner and in which a lot of winks and contemptuous smiles are used, make it a story that is pleasantly digestible, but also has a clearly serious undertone. Dealing with death and everything that precedes or follows it, thus becomes an everyday event and part of everyday life.
Raimunda is a young mother, has a boyfriend who is out of work, her financial situation is precarious. She has to take all kinds of jobs to keep things going. She carries with her a great secret from her past. Her sister Sole runs an illegal hairdressing salon and has been left by her husband who passed away with a client of hers. Paula is her aunt who lives in a village in the La Mancha region. It always blows there. Raimunda and Sole’s parents were killed in one of the many fires. One day when Raimunda receives a call from Sole that Aunt Paula has died, she is unable to attend the funeral, as her daughter has just accidentally killed her unemployed friend with a knife. She wants to protect her daughter, she decides to get rid of the body. During Aunt Paula’s funeral, Sole hears a story from the old villagers that her mother’s spirit had returned to take care of Aunt Paula in recent years. Is she really a ghost or is something else going on here? Many developments follow. Augustina, a neighbor, also plays an essential role in the storyline. Augustina has been told she has cancer and will soon die. Here she goes realistic and dignified, at the same time in a sideline of the story subtly denounces the way in which emotion TV is practiced today by exploiting human dramas. All lives in the story appear to be connected by the mum and dad who died in a fire. A mysterious event in the past plays a leading role in this. This is worked out in a subtle and credible way in the further development of the storyline. For example, ingredients of guilt and penance, dealing with grief and mourning have all been included in this comedy, without it being forced.
“Volver” is also a tribute to Spanish customs and rites and offers a nice insight into the world and thoughts of the inhabitants of the big city and those of simple villagers. Of the latter, many believe that the dead never really die, but that their spirits endure and return. Amusing is the picture of how people prepare themselves during life for the sometimes still distant death, when we see how people have already sought out their future graves and how many years before their death have been caring for and maintaining it.
Disclosures about an illegitimate child and how it affected the lives of many in this story have an important function. After her “return”, Mother tells about things the sisters don’t know about each other.
The camerawork is magnificent, visually optimal use is made of the Spanish countryside. Beautiful images of old and tranquil villages on the one hand, which are surrounded by extensive modern wind farms. The wind that always blows over the plateau has its own role in this story.
Penélope Cruz’s game, but also that in the other roles, is strong. “Volver” is a film in a completely different style from “Hable con ella” or “La Mala Educacion” and is therefore difficult to compare. Even those who are not such an Almodovar fan can now indulge in a completely different kind of film, a film with a good dose of humor. Lovers of Spanish cinema, but just as much those of comedy, will certainly get their money’s worth. Also for those interested in Spanish rites and customs (but also for superstitions) it is certainly worth a trip to the cinema.