Starring: Carmen Maura, Penelope Cruz, Lola Duenas, Blanca Portillo, Chus Lampreave, Cobo Yohana, Antonio de la torre, Carlos Blanco, Maria Isabel Diaz, Neus Sanz
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Almoldovar’s “Volver” is one of my favorite movies of all times. I will try to explain why, but I am not sure that the feeling that I get every time I think about Penelope Cruz singing while her mother listens and cries could be explained or demonstrated, it is either there or it is not. To a movie expert such as Skellington (who you will be acquainted to on Thursday) “Volver” is a technically imperfect film, with flaws and the stigma of not having met the expectations of the critics accustomed with “Talk to Her” or “Bad Education”, which compared to this one seem more meticulous and better directed, better thought. But here, the heart is stronger than the mind. And the flaws make it perfect, especially for someone who, until this movie, did not know anything about its creator.
“Volver” is the story of strong women, three generations of a family torn by secrets and abuse. The main character is Raymunda, played beautifully by Penelope Cruz, who proved with this role that she is a force in the drama department as well as in the looks department. She has a teenage daughter, Paula, and a lazy good-for-nothing husband who feels that Paula has to be taught a thing or two about pleasing a man, being 13 and all. Her mother, Irene, is presumed dead in an accidental fire that also killed her father. Her sister Soledad is a divorced hairdresser that seems a bit too eager to believe complicated supernatural theories over simple life facts. They are a family composed of horrible human beings posing as men and a long string of iron women who took too little and gave back too much, and who, at some point, broke. Irene broke when she set the house where her husband and his mistress were sleeping, her house, with them embraced in her bed, on fire. She took the abuse of her daughter and her own abuse, and the constant cheating until one point, after which lived as a ghost, with the company of only her senile old sister. Raymunda broke when she married Paco to escape the hell of her home, and then, just like her mother, took the next 13 years of supporting and tolerating an awful man as what she considered to be well deserved punishment. Paula broke when she rejected sleazy incestuous advances with the help of a knife, killing the man she thought was her father. This is where the chain breaks, because Raymunda took it upon herself to dispose of the body, as penitence for not having the strength to cut the marriage while her daughter’s innocence was still intact. Irene helps because she was unable to help her own daughter, thus almost losing her. They are sinners, but their sin is not murder, but lack of reaction at the necesarry moment, and their redemption is creating a clean slate for Paula. They all are strangely unaffected by murder because they did everything right until that breaking point. They feel they did everything to avoid it, but they learn that all they did was to postpone the inevitable. And we are unaffected by murder because we see the victims as less than worms. I know I did.
This is a comedy, by the way, in case you did not see that coming. It is set in Madrid, and the European vibe alone makes this movie unforgettable and unique. The streets, the people, the non English language, the lack of clichés, the vacuum where the saving male figures should be, the lack of any redeemable XY human whatsoever, the genuine love and care between the related females and the twisted manifestations of it, the repressed sadness that is only allowed to surface in one song and the survivor gene that is passed on from mother to daughter shows us that, no matter how insignificant your little corner of existence may seem, you will do just about anything to preserve it intact, and no one who loves you could ever blame you the way that an objective person would, the way you deserve to be judged.
I do not know whether “Volver” deserves the ten potatoes I will grade it. I also don’t care. Because I will take real emotion over perfectly fabricated standards any day. And I hope you all have a movie as close to your hearts as this one is to mine.