Friday, November 03, 2006

Volver - Movie Review

Volver 2006

We have been fans of the exquisitely rich melodramatic excesses of Spain’s modern film maestro, Pedro Almodóvar since he burst upon the international scene with his Oscar nominated Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” back in 1988. He had mysteriously crept up on us, and we immediately searched out his earlier films only to discover a treasure trove of macabre black comedies drenched in pathos, wit, layered storytelling and fully formed leading roles for actresses. Clearly, the film world had desperate need of the talents of Almodóvar.

In recent years, he has become one of if not the most renowned European directors alive. He finally nabbed the Oscar for his masterpiece, “All About My Mother”, and followed that with the brilliantly directed “Talk to Her” which nabbed him his first Best Director nomination from the Academy. (A rarity for a foreign language film.)

Well, our beloved Almodóvar is back with another Technicolor tragedy sprinkled liberally with humor and heart. “Volver” tells the story of three generations of women beset with familial strife, who choose not to stand idly by while the world heaps drama onto their doorsteps. Penélope Cruz heads the very fine cast of ladies who collectively nabbed the Best Actress prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. And they more than deserved it.

Volver” also marks the return of Carmen Maura, the former muse to Almodóvar who was so impressive decades ago in such wonderful fare as “Matador”, “Dark Habits” and her breathtaking turn in “Law of Desire”.

By now, we have come to expect certain things from the Iberian auteur. A zesty palette rich with color, the aforementioned juicy lead roles for women, several nods and winks to notable films especially from the Golden Age of Hollywood, and a multi story set-up that would crumble miserably under its complications in the hands of a lesser director. Thankfully, Almodóvar has only gotten better with age, and his visual storytelling skills are marvelous to behold.

What other director working today could handle the curves of melodramatic excess with such flare and restraint. Yes, we said restraint. Almodóvar’s gift has always been one of solid directorial control coupled with his own flamboyant eye view of his familiar surrounding. The characters in his films deal with the tabloid grabbing plot twists of murder, betrayal, kitchen sink sorcery, twists of capricious fate, family politics and gender identification. All grounded by performances of honesty and approachability.

Over the years he has launched the careers of international stars with his repertory of players. Besides las señoritas Cruz and Maura, we are thrilled to see the return of Chus Lampreave and Lola Dueñas, and the fresh face of Yohana Cobo as the remaining members of the beguiled familia.

For this quintet of women have lived in the shadow of past deeds and betrayals usually committed by the men in their lives. How they maintain their sense of family while combatting their spiraling destiny is the backbone of this endlessly enjoyable movie. How these very fine actresses along with Blanca Portillo as a trusting neighbor, Agustina embody these roles is nothing short of brilliant.

For too long, Penélope Cruz has been sidetracked from her fine work in Spanish films by an international career that has produced precious little to boast about. It is in her return to her film roots that she emerges as one of the best performances of the year. Her statuesque figure bedecked in clinging skirts and retro swept-up hairdo pay distinct homage to the great Sophia Loren in her heyday. The parallel is obvious when one considers La Loren’s own challenging career in the 50s where she was frequently wasted in action thrillers and dippy romances, only to find saving grace and an Oscar awaiting her for her knuckles baring turn in Vittorio de Sica’sTwo Women”.

It is that classic film of Loren’s that is echoed in “Volver” by the strong protective mother-daughter bond acting to perfection by Penélope Cruz and Yohana Cobo. The whole of the film is one that is deliciously ripe with characterization and honesty in the layered relationships between the female protagonists. While Almodóvar has delivered some wonderful roles to male actors in the past, as recently as “Bad Education” and notably with “Live Flesh”, his love affair with women is truly his métier.

The tapestry of a storyline for this film is one filled with haunting images. Both figuratively and literally. As the camera caresses the strong features of the leading ladies, we see their entire lives unfold before us by the sheer power of their convictions. It is one of the strongest films of the year, filled with delightful humor and loving embraces. Almodóvar should be applauded once again for his daring, his singular skills and his ability to capture magical and mystical moments on the silver screen. Brava, Pedro! Bless you all!

Written and Directed by Pedro Almodóvar

Penélope Cruz as Raimunda
Carmen Maura as Irene
Lola Dueñas as Sole
Blanca Portillo as Agustina
Yohana Cobo as Paula
Chus Lampreave as Tía Paula
Antonio de la Torre as Paco
Carlos Blanco as Emilio
María Isabel Díaz as Regina
Neus Sanz as Inés
Leandro Rivera as Production Assistant
Yolanda Ramos as TV Presenter

Cinematography by José Luis Alcaine
Film Editing by José Salcedo
Costume Design by Bina Daigeler
Original Music by Alberto Iglesias
Production Design by Salvador Parra
Set Decoration by Mara Matey



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