Volver is set in an altogether familiar land, populated by the machinations of Pedro Almodovar. Having focused primarily on the shifting realm of male melodrama in Talk To Her and Bad Education, he once again returns to what once made him the critics darling in All About My Mother, the woman-centric realm that transforms both classic Spanish and American cinema into more than the camp artifice it should be with it’s lush, vibrant colour palate and themes of lust, jealousy and violence. This is humanism at its best. It comes as no surprise that the piece translates roughly as “To Return”, this truly is one of Pedro’s finest works.
Establishing itself as a sort of redemptive tale centering around Raimunda (Penelope Cruz) and her rise from a semi-catatonic state to centred entrepreneurship, whereas his two previous works employed often unsightly flashbacks and parallel story-telling, Volver uses an depth of ease that shows the level of trust he has within his ensemble cast. Men are largely redundant here, serving only as means to bring the cast together and progress the story even further. They are irrelevant or completely absent altogether.
Casting is key here especially with Raimunda. It is obvious in ways that Pedro uses her character most specifically to illustrate the gender roles he himself experienced in a patriarchal Spain many years ago. What Gloria Steinem would consider feminism is painted simply as a primal version of sisterhood, one where determination and empathy are portrayed without any self-indulgence or self-pity. Cruz is almost completely in a league of her own, retaining her sultry sense of glamour whilst simultaneously demonstrating an earthen and at times, vulgar lack of pretentiousness. Her central role is only further acknowledged when one looks at the characters that surround her – Agustina, her neighbour who could easily have a movie devoted solely to her when one considers her troubles; Sole, her sister who appears to have be constantly and comedically bemused; and her innocent daughter Paula who seems to remind her so much of herself. Perhaps the second most inspired casting is that of Carmen Maura as the family matriarch who’s comedic timing is a needed break and drive within the film.
Dealing with themes such as cancer, death and emotional isolation in a way that is primarily comedic, Almodovar manages to deal with the misfortune without weighing the narrative down. Smiling in the face of such calamity, it is neigh on impossible not to smile along with him.