Pedro Almodóvar, Spain’s most prominent director, is especially known for his films about sisterhood and female solidarity, films like Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) and All About My Mother (1999).
Volver (meaning “to return” in Spanish, like something that revolves back to the same point — “what goes around, comes around”) is another pilgrimage to the world of women, this one a stylish and colorful fable about resilient heroines dealing with disturbing events.
This Spanish-language movie, shot in Puertollano, Spain, stars Penélope Cruz as Raimunda, a breathtakingly beautiful and profoundly resourceful mother with a keen sense of smell and impressive catering skills. She and her more timid sister Sole (Lola Dueñas), a beautician, both now live on the outskirts of Madrid, but hail from La Mancha, where their parents died several years ago in a fire.
As the movie begins, there is concern about the health of their Aunt Paula (Chus Lampreave) as well. We soon meet Aunt Paula’s neighbor Agustina (Blanca Portillo) and Raimunda’s daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo) who, along with a mysterious older woman played by Carmen Maura, make up the rest of this tight, mutually supportive network.
Volver is a clever slice of storytelling, nimbly performed. Subtly comic at times, plainly tragic at others, it moves at a steady pace, always studying its characters’ faces as they are forced to cope with a set of formidable circumstances. It is a movie about mothers and daughters and sisters, about sympathy and how to mitigate trauma. It opens up once, then unfolds again several more times, but each turn is accented and counterpointed by humor and compassion. Even in his film’s darkest moments, Almodóvar maintains a light touch. This chick-flick is refreshingly free of melodrama and full of loving detail.
The screen presence of Penélope Cruz here is stunning — on a level with Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren — but she is not alone. Sophisticated, delicate performances are delivered by all of the women in this exceptional cast, and they are captured and framed in vivid color and wonderful light by José Luis Alcaine. Between the actresses and the cinematography, this movie is a complete treat to watch.
Volver is not a soul-wringing, landmark achievement in filmmaking. It is an expertly crafted and continuously entertaining movie, well worth renting. I rated it four out of five stars at Netflix.