I was positive Penelope Cruz won an Oscar for her performance in Volver. Alas, I am wrong. She was nominated for her role – but lost out to Helen Mirren playing The Queen. Though she did win at the Empire Awards and Europeon Film Awards. At any rate, I expected alot from this film and, going in without any knowledge, seemed to help as the film jolted from one narrative-thread to another. A film combining death and feminity is what Volver attempts to achieve and it indeed does do this … but I think certain aspects did jar just a tad.
Without putting too fine a point on it, I was not keen as it shifted between murder and abuse to mythical stories and Motherly tenderness between family-members. The story itself is rather conflicted in the lead character and, dare I say it, though a lead and important role it seemed a bit unemotional. But maybe that was the point – a character who simply deals with a situation and doesn’t get upset about it. For one thing, Penelope Cruzs’ Raimunda is not fussed about death.
The exploration on the theme of death is established from the start – as multiple women clean gravestones. We are introduced to sisters
Raimunda (Cruz) and Sole (Dueñas) cleaning down their Mothers gravestone – Raimunda’s daughter assists too. The Sisters were brought up in La Mancha, whereby the culture of death is something to be celebrated – to the point that we see a friend, Augustina (Blanca Portillo), preparing her own gravestone for when she dies. When we get back to Raimunda’s house we meet Paco, he husband, who si clearly a peadophile as he fantasizes and spys on his daughter getting changed… the following day, Paco is dead, as Raimunda’s daughter has killed him when he attempted to rape her. Together, they hide his body in the cafe of a next-door neighbour. Another death – only for Raimunda and Sole’s Auntie to die the same day… as Sole goes to the funeral of her Auntie she finds her Mother…
As Almodóvar is dealing with such a sensitive subject, it is no suprised that the comedic and bizarre elements are not seen – and, other than Paco’s brief perversions – there is no overt-sexual scenes or sexuality-issues raised. So, though restrained for Almodóvar the colours still reek of pastels and calmness. Nothing too bold and nothing too cold – pastelly-blue’s and pinks all over the place.
Death and All His Friends
On the one side, Almodóvar focusses on mourning and loss – but on the other side, he includes a murder plot (killing off the only male character…) whereby the abusive partner of Cruz is killed by his daughter – and buried. This is not the centre-piece of the story – the Mother returning is (Volver means ‘coming back’ or ‘to return’) – and so there is no ‘criminal’ angle to this murder plot. I felt like it was an unfinished thread – as if it seemed too easy to have any repurcussions – so they might as well end the thread without returning. But maybe, in the same way that Raimunda not telling her daughter Paco was not her father, the murder of Paco will come back to haunt her.
Paco, though virtually the only male character (there is, briefly, a man who flirts with Cruz … but., who wouldn’t?) sets-up an attack on men throughout. As Raimunda’s Mother reveals the reason for her survival and disappearance, we find that Raimunda and Sole’s Father was a cheater and cruel character too. As if maybe, Almodóvar’s intention was to bring this family together again – “to return” – after the tragedy without men. Men created the problems and anger for these women – so they should celebrate their lives without them.