Our season celebrating the seminal works of Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar continues with 2006’s Volver on Tuesday 24 September.
The Volver storyline first appears in one of Almodóvar's early films The Flower Of My Secret (1995) where it is the plot of a movie-within-the-movie based on the main characters novel in the film.
More modest in scope than Bad Education and Talk To Her, and not so obviously extravagant, Volver is however overwhelming in its warmth and richness, not only in its colour and depth of characters but also in the suave score that conjures up an era of vintage cinema.
Penélope Cruz is Raimunda, an overworked mother with a lazy husband, deceased parents and a lonely sister. She tends to her parent's graves, works various jobs and visits an elderly Aunt. This seemingly mundane, working class life is shattered by the death of one relative and the sudden reappearance of another.
Themes of sexual abuse, loneliness, death, and maternal love are blended together in a mixing of genres from tragedy to farce comedy, melodrama to magical realism, while evoking the Italian neorealist directors of the 40s and 50s such as Fellini and Visconti. The film also pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock in the dominant use of the colour red, signifying blood and passion. Pop culture references are prevalent in Almodóvar's work and in Volver the shape of a dead body on the kitchen floor resembles the film poster for Anatomy Of A Murder.
Volver means 'to return' or 'go back' and this resonates beyond the actions of the characters. The film is set in Almodóvar's place of birth, the La Mancha region and he has cited his upbringing as a major influence on some aspects of the plot and pays tribute to the women that raised him. The director's form for focusing his stories around strong women is expanded in Volver with a multi-generational, predominantly female cast (which shared the Best Actress award at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival). The rich culture that surrounds death in the La Mancha region is evident from the opening shot of the film where the widows are dutifully caring for the graves of their deceased relatives as if they are still keeping house for them.
The theme of homecoming extends to Cruz too. Volver sees her return to Spain, to work in her native language, for a third collaboration with Almodóvar, and also a return to form after a series of unsuccessful American releases. Cruz received a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her role as Raimunda, making her the first Spanish actress to ever be considered for the award.