Friday, February 16, 2007


After a series of emotional drenching works – All About My Mother, Talk To Her and Bad Education, Volver is a pleasant short break for the director Almodóvar. Volver means to return. The title certainly fits well into the well executed plot; it also marks Almodóvar’s return to his early style: bitter dialogues, witty story-telling, bigger-than-life plot and unexpected turns that are sharper than a serpent's tooth. But most of all, Almodóvar has gone back to explore his favorite theme that dominated most of his early works (Women On the Verge Of a Nervous Breakdown, High Heels and Kika): Men are the root of women’s suffering.

This time the director chooses his hometown where the longer life expectancy of females put a lot of women live long after their men pass away. The beginning scenes are masterfully shot: with a group of cheerful women cleaning tombstones in a gusty day, Almodóvar, in a declamatory narrative gesture, discloses what should be following: Not only does the wind have a particular function in the whole plot as is gradually revealed through the movie, but also it makes it clear that no matter how happy women can live on their own, the shadows of their men, even out of tombs, can still be wearingly burdensome. Soon the expected Almodóvarian surprises turn the movie into a whirlpool: the death of alcoholic husband who is killed by his step-daughter in an untold raping scene, the death of the ailing aunt who cannot remember the name of her niece but keeps an exercising bicycle in her room, the chaotic operation of an improperly obtained restaurant where the body is stashed and most of all the return of long-missed mother that brought the unspeakable past memory back. All women are wounded; some even share the same source. They live without men, yet they are not alone: each find the courage and resolution from others as long as they can reconcile their interwoven past.

Like all other Almodóvar’s movies, ethnic scandals and moral debauchment are as casual as slips in the tongue; yet these do not lead to more sophisticated and convincing characters. While in “All About My Mother”, Manuela’s Madrid trip is a journey of soul-searching and self discovery, here are the women delightful naïve (almost simple-minded), as if those sufferings never make a real dent on the lightness of their beings.

Penelope Cruz’s role as Raimunda is the most intriguing character in the movie. Like her mother, Raimunda is resourceful, but she is powerless in getting rid of her troublesome men, physically and mentally. And that powerless yet revengeful feeling leads to her silent estrangement from her mother. However, while the settlement of the alienation is told in a gentle and touching way, one cannot find the ground for Raimunda’s vulnerability after watching her super powerful handling of a restaurant catering more than 30 people with her dead husband lying in the freezer: She is simply too comic to be convincing.

For Almodóvar, Volver represents what he is and famous for: A gay man who loves women’s breasts. The twisted hate-love attitude toward manhood may well come from his worship of domination and potency, yet those scintillating scripts show his profound understanding of women thinking. Yet the only element missing is the passion which used to stir deep into audience’s consciousness, therefore the effect is soap-operatic, entertaining yet not challenging.


cormac said...

I thought this was a beautifully crafted film. The story was subtly insinuating and the casting perfect. I'm not a big Cruz fan - certainly not when it comes to the mainstream - but she's wonderful in this. Also good to see other films in the Spanish tongue making headlines of late... a cultural spin on the Hispanic Menace?!

leazhw said...

He is an awsome storyteller. The conflicts and tenseness always come in a sudden but being well organized. The twist is always surprising and inspiring. Plus, soundtracks are tasteful as before.