Any suggestion of Pedro Almod? departing entirely from familiar territory with his latest film evaporates in the first scene. As Volver opens, single mother Raimunda (Pen?pe Cruz) and her sister Sole (Lola Due? are tending their parents’ windswept grave in a village in Spain’s La Mancha region.
As the women chat and laugh, it seems Almod? is set for another examination of one of his most adored subjects: women.
With all the major roles played by women, and one of the main male characters killed off early on, Volver is very much a celebration of the female world. But there is more at work in this complex and sometimes surprising film.
Part family drama, part social comedy and part enigmatic ghost story, Volver centres on the tenacious Raimunda, a working mother with a secret.
Raimunda lives in Madrid with her husband and her daughter. As she endures an unhappy marriage and works several jobs to make ends meet, her sister Sole runs an unlicensed hairdresser’s across town.
The siblings are called back to their native village in La Mancha for the funeral of an elderly aunt, but by now tragedy has intervened and only Sole can go. When she returns to Madrid, she discovers her mother’s ghost in the boot of her car.
From there, Almod? combines the supernatural with the everyday in an effective meditation on family, women’s relationships and Spanish society.
The film is not the prolific director’s finest. It has neither the sharp ribaldry of early classics such as Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! nor the poignancy of the more recent All About My Mother.
But Almod? shows a certain maturity with Volver. The film has a gravity and depth not seen in some of his more bawdy efforts.
Volver is also a milestone in other ways. The title means to return, and Almod? turns his attention to his home region of La Mancha after a series of works focused on Madrid.
As well, he elevates Cruz from supporting roles in previous films to current leading lady. Cruz’s impressive performance and striking looks anchor the film. The supporting cast is solid.
Volver has been nominated at the Golden Globes and must be the hot tip for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. Despite the acclaim, fans of Almod?’s edgier efforts may be disappointed.
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