Saturday, August 12, 2006

VOLVER - the genius of Almodovar

Ah the delight of having a new Pedro Almodovar movie to watch! Let me make no apology - Almodovar is by far my favourite contemporary film-maker and for many people, the fact that this movie carries his name is enough to ensure that they make the trip to the cinema. But how can I convince others to shell out that ten squid?

Almodovar is a Spanish director who grew up in La Mancha with his indomitable mother. As a result his movies delight in the colours, language, music, costume and food of Spain. But more than being great exemplars of Spanish culture, Almodovar's movies are full of life in all its glory. By which I mean that you are as likely to see a transexual or drug addict as a provincial grand-mother. All are treated with equal warmth and, unlike more preachy cinema, never need to be explained or made an issue of. Almodovar's films also feature strong female characters, and focus on the relationships between women. (BAD EDUCATION being the exception to this rule.) Men are often predators although even then they can be treated with empathy and sometimes sympathy. This means that unlike conventional cinema, these films are full of eccentric characters and deliver great opportunities for actresses to give impressive performances that combine humour and tragedy. Anything can happen in an Almodovar film but it is always grounded in authentic emotion.

VOLVER, which means "coming back" in Spanish, combines all those wonderful, familiar Almodovar traits. The film is set half in Madrid and half in a provincial town in La Mancha. The cast is almost entirely female and features a "coming back" to Almodovar for Penelope Cruz (ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER), Lola Duenas (TALK TO HER) and Carmen Maura (WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN). Penelope Cruz makes a triumphant and award-winning return to Spanish-language cinema, playing Raimunda. She is a feisty, curvaceous house-wife living in the crappier part of Madrid with her teenage daughter Paula and her unemployed sleazy husband Paco. Famously, Penelope wears a fake arse and a push-up bra for the role, allowing Almodovar to cheekily photograph her cleavage from above. Almodovar explained that this was not because Penelope had an unattractive arse or was too thin - but that to him a really fat arse represented optimism and passion for life. You've just got to love this guy! Raimunda has a quieter, aptly titled sister, Sole (Lola Duenas.) Sole is alone - separated from her husband and feeling the loss of her mother, whose ghost (Carmen Maura) returns with Sole to Madrid. Add to this supernatural plot, sexual violence, murder and a lot of really really good food, and you get your typically brilliant Almodovar movie.

For me VOLVER is about the importance of family and friends and helping each other out of those lonely times. Most of all it is about that instinct for survival that gets us through the worst of times. Not ground-breaking for sure, but delivered with so much good-humour and genuine pathos that it is deeply affecting. In particular, Penelope Cruz delivers an oustanding performance. Raimunda is at once self-reliant and no-nonsense but at other times incredibly vulnerable.

What more can I say? VOLVER combines the darker subject matter of recent films such as BAD EDUCATION with the technicolour out-landish-ness of movies such as TIE ME UP, TIE ME DOWN. It is a funny, moving, beautifully acted and photographed movie about eccentric people and events but very real emotions. It deserves all the praise it has received and then some. Go see it!

VOLVER played at Cannes 2006 where it won prizes for its script and female cast. It has already been on release in Spain, Belgium, France, Italy, Switzerland, Israel, Hungary, Germany, Estonia and Russia. VOLVER opens in the Netherlands and UK on August 25th, Finland on September 1st; Hungary and Portugal on September 7th and Poland and Sweden on September 29th. The movies opens in Argentina on October 2th and in the US (NYC & LA) on November 3rd. It rolls into Japan on 11th November 2006.


  1. wow....thats an awesome review bina. Never have had such an indepth view on a movie. Will try n catch up on it.
    by the way yeah i have seen saif's being cyrus. It was truly awesome. He is one actor , i feel is quite underrated.

  2. I couldn't agree with you more on Saif. Every time I see him interviewed or on screen I am struck by his intelligence and insight...Perhaps he is this generation's Naseerudin Shah?!

  3. P.A kissed my hand at a film festival. It changed my life.
    I don't know who I am anymore.
    the movie was KIKA!


  4. Almodovar has that effect on people. In the Q&A at the NFT a man asked if he could come on stage and kiss Almodovar!