Film Reviews

Volver Pedro Almodovar

Rating - 9/10

Is there a more generous and humane spirit in film than Pedro Almodovar? His films always contain taboo and transgression, but with a touch that is oddly affirming, drawing the viewer closer rather than dividing. Vulgarity can be beautiful, and extremities accentuate the simple treasures of life. Almodovar's touch has grown gentler film to film, from the brashness of a provocateur with an undeniably striking if not always coherent style to the ease of a wise humanist with as great a command of the film medium to not strike a false note in his delicate, personal, and idiosyncratic compositions. It may be a limited audience that can be said to share a great deal of broad personal detail with Almodovar, but his films are open and embracing to all willing to consider them.

Much of film concerns the subject of women: as gaze objects, sexual fantasies, fetishized installations, victims, villains, and general projections of male neurosis and insecurity. Almodovar, conversely, loves women primarily in his love of people and life. He celebrates them as few writers or directors bother to attempt and few succeed at: as complicated, diverse people. In Volver, all of the important characters are women, as are the supporting cast, all lavished with complete affection, from young to old, family to friend, whore to mother (rather than whore and/or mother, Almodovar doesn't permit his characters to let stereotype overcome bond and commonality). The few men in the story are either completely absent or pushed farther into the margins than the beleaguered girlfriends that barely haunt action films. This is not disparaging ... the men are not non-entities, they are just not who this picture is about. The extreme sisterhood that pervades Volver may seem at points exaggerated, but if that is the case it is the kind of glorious, heartfelt fantasy movies are meant to illuminate.

In this inclusive collective of women, glamour is not rejected. Almodovar's All About My Mother expressed the real, valid personal importance that oversized, iconographic beauty can have (and how a world weary transsexual could be just as worthy of such adulation). In his love for impossibly gorgeous women, Volver may be his love letter to Penelope Cruz, who is actualized here as a filmic earth goddess on par with any screen legend here. She has never looked or acted better, constantly enchanting the screen. There is something bottomless about her loving presentation here, where one moment she can be a model of perfect contrast and symmetry, then a slight move or change in expression reveals new details and imperfections that make her even more complex and attractive. Her cleavage and dress profile are almost characters on the order of The Third Man's city of Vienna, but she also has a charisma and inner shine (even when pensive) that cause one to wonder how clueless directors of American films have wasted her so and what the big fucking deal is about Julia Roberts. This may all sound like horny gushing, and it is, but it's more than that. The luminosity of Cruz in Volver is something that to deny would mean disregarding an integral part of cinema magic, one that is more universal, complex, and elusive than something so crass as "hotness", something that gay Almodovar can see much more clearly than most emphatically hetero male directors who just want to bust squibs all day.

The plot is a typically convoluted one that manages to involve horrible familial abuse, supernatural suggestions, murder, betrayal, cancer, deception and farce. For the most part, as involved as the story is, it is considerably less important than the interaction between the women who gracefully remain themselves through the machinations rather than conveniently changing to jump through the hoops required. When some secrets are revealed, reconciliations are made, and catharsis is achieved, however, many of the story's more precious conceits take on a more profound resonance. The entire piece exudes an earned humanism. While Cruz is heaven on earth here, and no character can really stand on equal ground, there is the sense that Almodovar has only slightly less love for the overweight prostitute. In retrospect, these people have done some awful things to each other, but even the greatest and most marginalized transgressors are given moments of dignity and sympathy that do not disacknowledge what they did.

Almodovar continues to be one of the most ravishing visualists around. No colour does not burst with warmth, and Volver features several of the best reds seen in awhile. The compositions and movement are full of flourish and grace. Most notably, when Almodovar goes for a personal trademark, such as the full musical interlude, it is not jarring at all, but naturally of the piece, and helps elevate Volver from great to classic. Here, when Penelope Cruz sings the title song, taught to her by her mother (secretly watching and crying), the effect is scintillating, and the ever so brief, complex, and emotional look Penelope Cruz gives afterwards is transcendent.