- Penélope Cruz as Raimunda
- Carmen Maura as Irene
- Lola Dueñas as Sole
- Yohana Cobo as Paula
- Blanca Portillo as Augustina
A melding of genres and a celebration of womanhood, Volver is a layered movie from Pedro Almodóvar. Weaving together a galaxy of themes with deft assurance, he crafts Volver with pathos and a stellar cast, headed by an astounding Penélope Cruz.
Raimunda is a hard-working woman who along with her shy sister Sole used to live in a windswept region of La Mancha. Both sisters now reside in Madrid, along with Raimunda’s teenage daughter Paula. Often Raimunda and Sole travel back to La Mancha to tend to the graves of their parents, who perished years before in a terrible fire and also take time to visit their ageing Aunt Paula. Meanwhile Raimunda works tirelessly to provide for her daughter and lay about husband, who recently got fired for his laziness and drinking. She must also contend with Aunt Paula talking as if the girl’s mother is still alive and well. Augustina, a family friend with her own problems, is also on hand to help at times and speaks of how Aunt Paula has been speaking like this for a while and believes her. Before overworked Raimunda can consider this possibility, three particularly testing events take place for her. First her daughter accidentally kills her father after he attempted to assault her, leaving Raimunda with a body to dispose of. Then she is left in charge of a friend’s restaurant , which could help her money wise and give her somewhere to hide her husband’s corpse. And then Aunt Paula dies quite suddenly before elaborating on her stories of their mother’s return. But all of this is just the tip of the iceberg for Raimunda and Sole. Their mother Irene returns(just like Aunt Paula said), seemingly from beyond the grave. She wishes to help her daughters in ways that she couldn’t while alive. She also wishes to mend the relationships and atone for the past, especially with Raimunda, from who she was estranged for a long time. But will any of these issues be resolved as more skeletons rattle in closets for everyone? And how many more eventful occurrences can be thrown at Raimunda and Sole?
Pedro Almodóvar is a director who loves women and nowhere is this more apparent than here in Volver. He clearly understands and is intrigued by women and from his own pen and direction, the experience of sorority and the things that women go through on a daily basis in life take colourful shape. His biggest achievement is his mixture of filming styles and switches in tone, complete with genre hopping and references to other film makers. There is a little bit of Hitchcock in the parts where Raimunda covers up the murder of her husband in various ways that generate some real suspense as well as black humour. The melodramas of Douglas Sirk get a shout out in the domestic struggles and issues faced by females, that are ever-present for Raimunda and the ladies surrounding her. And the magical realism of a ghost returning( which fits with the title that translates into ‘to go back’) is just another inspired ingredient to a film that pulls it all off admirably. Considering all the disparate influences at play, it says a lot that the final product is something clearly in Almodóvar’s vision and control. Tragedy, comedy and drama meet and create a film that is brimming with content, leaving there to be nary a dull moment. Themes like death, family scars, secrecy and infidelity are explored with both tinges of humour and melancholy with neither one of the two rising above the other. There is something so rich about Volver with its eye-popping colour scheme and collection of topics covered; it’s almost like stepping into another world where between scenes something new is infused with the craftsmanship of an artist at work and at his apex. You’ll be laughing one moment, then moved the next by this layered work on show. And that score from Alberto Iglesias matches the rapid switches in tone effortlessly.
Penélope Cruz turns in an astonishing performance as Raimunda, who is constantly besieged by events that she tries to weather. So much of what happens depends on the character and Cruz never misses a beat. She exudes so many emotions and a sense of fortitude that is unmistakable. The character of Raimunda is one that is a dream for an actress and Cruz makes it her own. All the strength, hard life, sadness and sexiness is presented in such a natural and sublime way that for my money, this is the best performance that Penélope Cruz has ever given to cinema. And the rest of the cast is none too shabby either. A moving Carmen Maura is wonderfully cast as the returning mother and through her face, you can see the regret and pain that has haunted her and resulted in her reappearance. Lola Dueñas contributes a suitably mousy vulnerability and sweetness as the timid Sole, who is the first to encounter her returned and seemingly reanimated mother. Sole is someone who is the complete opposite of her outspoken sister and Dueñas excels at getting this across. The young Yohana Cobo is ideal for playing the teenage daughter, while a barely contained melancholy emits from Blanca Portillo as she essays the role of Augustina.
An extremely enthralling and eventful movie that covers a lot of ground without ever getting boring, Volver is an experience from a director at the top of his game, both thematically and stylistically. This film is not to be missed under any circumstances as it will no doubt resonate with you in some way from beginning to touching finale.