Film

Volver (2006)

The women repeatedly confront and contemplate death, gathering in rituals of grief and affirmation.


Volver

Display Artist: Pedro Almodóvar
Director: #243;var
Cast: Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo, Chus Lampreave
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Distributor: Sony
MPAA rating: R
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2006-11-03 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer
Every time I have worked with [Pedro Almodóvar], I had the impression that I was him, I was portraying him.

-- Carmen Maura

"There are so many widows," observes 14-year-old Paula (Yohana Cobo). As she watches her mother Raimunda (Penélope Cruz) scrub her grandparents' grave, Paula is being trained up in the art of mourning and remembering. It's true, according to her Aunt Sole (Lola Dueñas): "The women here live longer than the men." The camera pans the La Mancha cemetery to show dozens of women in scarves and rubber gloves, tending to their familial stones, sweeping and shining headstones, loading vases with flowers and rocks to hold them still against the wind. It's what women do in Almodóvar's Volver.

Raimunda’s family is exceptional here, in that they also mourn her mother, Irene (Carmen Maura). She died in her husband’s arms, though the circumstances of this trauma aren’t immediately clear. While Raimunda sees it as a “blessing” that Irene died alongside the man she loved, Sole is less sanguine, more focused on the violent means than the end. Come to find that Raimunda has good reason for her perspective: her husband Paco (Antonio de la Torre), with whom she lives back in Madrid, is a lout, lazy and resentful that his wife isn't interested in sex with him.

Paco soon suffers his own bloody end for his abuses (Raimundo explains a suspicious splat of blood on her neck as "woman troubles," and no one questions her further), but the movie is less concerned with death per se than what happens after. This afterlife involves both the living and the seeming dead, as the past shapes the present, flavored equally by guilt, resentment, and expectation.

As Raimundo struggles to support herself and Paula following Paco's demise, she assumes what seems a conventional woman's place, unconventionally. When her neighbor leaves her in charge of the restaurant he's trying to sell, on an impulse, she opens it and begins serving a film crew who happens to be in town, catering their dinners and finding an unexpected outlet for her nurturing disposition (as well as an occasion to sing, tearfully and vibrantly, of the never-over past, her soul "clinging to a sweet memory").

As she explains Paco's sudden absence as the result of an argument ("He's gone, forever," she tells Sole), Raimundo's efforts to dispose of the body form a little antic subplot, darkly comic in a Hitchcockian way. At the same time, more funerals loom, first when Irene's aged sister Paula (Chus Lampreave) passes on, and then again when a longtime family friend and neighbor, Agustina (Blanca Portillo), is hospitalized with cancer. The women repeatedly confront and contemplate death, gathering in rituals of grief and affirmation; remembering Tía Paula, a group of black-dressed women gather (the camera overhead as they flutter and loudly kiss-kiss Sole, voices murmuring comfort and fans flapping). They sit in a circle, knee-high stockings peeping from beneath their hems, and listen, rapt, as Agustina tells a ghost story. On the night Paula died, she says, a spirit arrived on her doorstep to announce the old woman's passing.

Everyone believes the story, heads nodding and faces dramatically lit from below. The women's only question: was it Paula's spirit who came to visit, or "the other one"? Soon enough, it's clear that it was indeed the latter, for Irene appears to Sole, stowed away with a shopping bag in the back of her daughter's car, after she arrives home in Madrid following Paula's funeral. Sole, lonely and trusting, doesn’t bat an eye, but invites the ghost -- in blue housedress and cardigan -- inside.

Sole wonders briefly how long Mama is staying ("As long as God wills, if you don't mind," comes the answer, "But for a separated woman, who's better company than her mother?"), but offers no resistance. She gives Irene the guest room, dyes her hair for her and gets her a pair of sunglasses. Back in the village, Irene sighs, she couldn't go out for fear of being discovered, but in Madrid, where no one knows her, she expects to live a little. Or whatever ghosts do. Sole sets her up with a new identity, "the Russian," as well as job: she washes clients hair' in illegal beauty salon Sole runs out of her apartment.

Sole's complete acceptance of her guest's story makes it seem acceptable for the rest of us. Daffy, a stretch certainly, maybe another extra-dimensional leap in a film by Almodóvar, but okay, Irene's reappearance illustrates the extent of community of women -- widows, mothers, and daughters -- who populate his universe. At ease with one another, practical-minded, they understand limits and pleasure, and how to make the most of both. Sole is partly glad that Irene has appeared to her and not Raimundo, the vivacious sister with a beautiful daughter and a secret, strained past with her mother. For once, Sole can be at the center of her own life, with the help of her dead mother.

Thus the film conjures several broadly comedic moments, as when Irene hides under the bed, her farts alerting Raimundo to her presence, or what seems to be her memory. The sisters -- along with young Paula -- laugh tenderly at the recollection, paving the way for Irene's appearance to Raimundo. She has come back, she explains, to ask forgiveness -- the "for what" reframes the women's multi-generational relationships in a way at once unexpected and inevitable. They live in a world of trauma and dire circumstance, their daily lives filled with tragedy and passion.

The women's shared and similar experiences draw them together even as they create rifts. Volver, as its title suggests, is full of returns, of emotions and bodies, energies and dilemmas, all them women's. The most bracing, strange, and provocative aspect of Almodóvar's movie -- aside from Cruz's much-remarked magnificence -- is celebration of women's self-understanding. Yes, men are brutal and slow, and yes, women tolerate them, even love them. On one level, gender identities and sexual desires are fluid, pulsing, crossing from life into death and back again. On another level, men don't have a chance. The primary source of "woman troubles," they are, in the end, also irrelevant to women's patient, purposeful, and proud survival.

8


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Music

Hip-Hop's Raashan Ahmad Talks About His Place in 'The Sun'

On his latest work,The Sun, rapper Raashan Ahmad brings his irrepressible charisma to this set of Afrobeat-influenced hip-hop.

Music

Between the Buried and Me's Baby Pictures Star in 'The Silent Circus'

The Silent Circus shows Between the Buried and Me developing towards the progressive metal titans they would eventually become.

Music

The Chad Taylor Trio Get Funky and Fiery on 'The Daily Biological'

A nimble jazz power trio of drums, tenor sax, and piano, the Chad Taylor Trio is free and fun, funky and fiery on The Daily Biological.

Music

Vistas' 'Everything Changes in the End' Is Catchy and Fun Guitar Rock

Vistas' debut, Everything Changes in the End, features bright rock music that pulls influences from power-pop and indie rock.

Film

In Amy Seimetz's 'She Dies Tomorrow', Death Is Neither Delusion Nor Denial

Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow makes one wonder, is it possible for cinema to authentically convey a dream, or like death, is it something beyond our control?

Music

Maestro Gamin and Aeks' Latest EP Delivers LA Hip-Hop Cool (premiere + interview)

MaestroAeks' Sapodigo is a collection of blunted hip-hop tunes, sometimes nudging a fulsome boom-bap and other times trading on laid-back, mellow grooves.

Music

Soul Blues' Sugaray Rayford Delivers a "Homemade Disaster" (premiere + Q&A)

What was going to be a year of touring and building Sugaray Rayford's fanbase has turned into a year of staying home and reaching out to fans from his Arizona home.

Music

Titan to Tachyons' Experimental Heaviness on Full Display via "Earth, And Squidless" (premiere)

Featuring current members of Imperial Triumphant, Titan to Tachyons break incredible new ground in the realm of heavy music.

Music

Jerry Leger Teams with Moby Grape's Don Stevenson for "Halfway 'Til Gone" (premiere)

Reminiscent of Lee Hazlewood and the Everly Brothers, Jerry Leger's "Halfway 'Til Gone" is available on all streaming platforms on 6 August.

Music

The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.

Books

John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.

Music

Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.

Music

Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.