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VOLVER

Director: PEDRO ALMODOVAR

SPAIN • 2006 SUBTITLED • COLOUR • ANAMORPHIC • DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO • 120 MIN


WITH VOLVER, SPANISH DIRECTOR PEDRO ALMODOVAR RETURNS TO HIS ROOTS AND PROVIDES A MOVING TESTAMENT TO THE POWER OF THE PAST TO INFLUENCE THE PRESENT.
Back in 1984, near the beginning of his career, Pedro Almodovar made an explosive firecracker of a movie called What Have I Done to Deserve This?. To characterise the film’s heady, subversive mix of social observation, black comedy and emotionally-charged melodrama, the Spanish film-maker coined the phrase ‘surrealistic naturalism’. With his latest film Volver he has returned to his roots, but this is a mature, slow-burning work from a master film-maker at his peak. A moving testament to the power of friendship, neighbourliness and family ties, this heartbreaking film explores different facets of its title phrase, which translates as ‘coming back’. In a windswept La Mancha graveyard, a group of women have gathered to clean the graves of their loved ones. Yet there is nothing morbid or maudlin about this scene; it merely acknowledges that the dead still live among us, if only in our memories. The past echoes through the lives of two sisters who live in a working class area of Madrid: hard-working but vulnerable Raimunda (Penelope Cruz), who supports her adolescent daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo) and lazy husband Paco by working three jobs; and the steady Sole, who— abandoned by her own husband—ekes out a living with an illegal hairdressing business. The unexpected deaths of Raimunda’s husband and the sisters’ eccentric Aunt Paula (Chus Lampreave) spark a chain reaction, bringing the buried past back into the present. Most bizarrely in the form of the women’s mother, Abuela (Carmen Maura), who having perished in a fire with their father some years before, returns as ‘ghost’ to settle some unfinished family business. It is impossible to do justice to the emotional complexity and resonance of the film’s densely interwoven narrative threads, so suffice it to say that the plot embraces everything from ’40s melodrama, dead bodies hidden in restaurant freezers and incest, to the love of food and flamenco singing. The only false element in the entire film is the padded bum worn by the luminously beautiful and otherwise utterly convincing Penelope Cruz, whose own behind was deemed too skinny to be authentic.—Nigel Floyd.

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