VOLVER (2006)…A Few Thoughts

VOLVER (2007)

This film @ 121 minutes passes much too quickly. Director Pedro Almodovar, riding high on his last three hits; BAD EDUCATION (2004), TALK TO HER (2002), and ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER (1999), delivers again. Almodovar has been called,”the most internationally acclaimed Spanish director since Luis Buneul”, and with this film he has soared to new heights, getting award-winning performance from the entire, mostly female cast. At
Cannes, the actresses were all given the “Best Female Ensemble Cast” award. Almodovar won an award for “Best Screenplay”. Penelope Cruz has been nominated for an Oscar in the Best Actress category. She won a Golden Globe a few weeks ago as “Best Actress”, and the film won as “Best Foreign Language Film”.

Pedro Almodovar Caballero was born in the rural town of Cindad Real, a province of Castile La Mancha –that wind swept flat region immortalized in the tales of Don Quixote. At 8 years old, Pedro was sent off to religious school. His parents wanted him to become a priest. In 1967, against his parent’s wishes, he moved to swinging
Madrid. He decided he wanted to be a film director. He has always contended that “movies gave me more education than any school ever has.” But Francisco Franco had just closed down the NATIONAL SCHOOL OF CINEMA, so Almodovar had to teach himself to be a director.

In the early 70’s he joined a vanguard theatre group called Los Goliardos, where he met Carmen Maura. He began writing for magazines and even comic books. After the fall of the dictatorship of Franco, Almodovar became a key figure in a cultural renaissance called “La Movida Madrileria”. He used the name Parry DiFusa while writing. He published a novella called FIRE IN THE GUTS. Then he got his first movie camera, a super-8.

Outrageously, he used his super-8mm camera, and he began to shoot a series of short films that had “sexual narrative”, and no sound tracks; it was cheaper that way. They began to screen them at night clubs in
Madrid. “I began to be asked to go to bars and parties and show my films. I brought a music cassette, and I would narrate all the character’s voices, and sing the songs.” His first full length super-8 film with sound was titled, FOLLE, FOLLE, FOLLEME, TIM (1978), which is translated politely as SCREW ME, BANG ME, MAKE LOVE TO ME, TIM. In 1980, with the help and backing of Carmen Maura, he shot his first 16mm film, PEPI, LUCI, BUM, AND THE OTHER WOMEN ON THE HEAP. The film was very sexually explicit, and it included a now-famous “golden shower” scene during a knitting lesson. It immediately became a cult film, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW of
Spain. It ran at midnight in
Madrid for four years, bankrolling his next film. By 1983, Almodovar became the Enfant Terrible of the Spanish cinema. His big hit, getting an Oscar nomination out of it was
WOMAN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN (1988). Then he entered his present “golden age” with ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER (1999).

In VOLVER, Almodovar has given us a fantastic tale well told, a story of a “dead” mother, a dying aunt, childhood friends, sibling rivalry, two very different sisters, a granddaughter, several abusive philandering womanizing husbands and fathers –modern Madrid with its vibrant pace blurring poverty and struggle –a small village in La Mancha where the family grew up, where the widows all gather one day a month and scour and clean the tombstones together, singing and scrubbing amongst their flowers, a constant wind that blows both ill will and power to people and to the thrashing windmills that dot the barren landscape; a place where superstitious people believe in ghosts and curses and the frailty of human nature. Yes there are many dark secrets to be told through tears, and there are sordid touches of homicide, molestation, adultery, incest, and abandonment, fraught with unspoken unrevealed familial pain that has been harbored much too long –all told with the unblinking and colorful eye and lens of Almodovar, somehow bringing us wondrous closure and logic to a minefield of absurdity.

Penelope Cruz as Raimunda has never been lovelier or more effective as an actress –sporting a Sophia Loren more ample bosom and padded bottom. Like Loren in De Sica’s LA CIOCIADA (TWO WOMEN) (1960), Cruz sails through the full spectrum of emotions, dealing with incredibly stressful and tragic circumstances with the aplomb of an earth mother; sexy, charming, beguiling, and yet still so very vulnerable. For those of you who have only seen Cruz in American films, this performance is not the pale Cruz-lite, the Mrs. Cruise of films of yore –no, this is a much more powerful Penelope, who will shock you as you fall in love with her, and tease you as she holds your heart in her hands.

Carmen Maura as Irene, the mother, was likewise wonderful. She is one of those Spanish grand dames that have been making films there since she was younger than Cruz, 110 films since 1969. She is only 63 years old, and does this incredible job of appearing much older. I don’t think there was one bad performance in the film. Lela Duerra as Sole, the younger sister was delicious in all her idiosyncrasies. Yohana Cobo as the daughter of Raimunda, and the granddaughter was perfectly petulant, moving through the miasma of plot changes with appropriate teen angst, warmth, and wonder. Blanca Portillo found just the right notes of loyalty, kindness, terror, and pathos for her Augustina.

I would rate this film off the chart; 5 stars. It has it all.

Glenn Buttkus 2007


  1. Glenn,

    I liked this film too. But I don’t think I would give it 5 stars, maybe 3. For the most part, the film was good. But there wasn’t really anything in it that I haven’t seen before. (That’s ok. I don’t mind repeats. ) Like I said at our meeting on Wednesday. I was really disappointed that the mother wasn’t a ghost. I think had she been, the movie would have warranted 4 stars instead of 3.


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