Before I get to the smarter stuff I just want to share how some of my friends pronounce the title of this movie as ‘VOHLvurr’ when it’s actually ‘vohlVEHR.’ I love North Americans and I especially love any way that I can show that I’m better than I really am.
Volver‘s simplicity probably makes it my favourite out of the measly three Pedro Almodovar movies I’ve seen, the other movies being the morally questionable Hable con Ella and Mala Education, the latter having great performances but being too convoluted for its own good. It has Penelope Cruz in a performance that should have won an Oscar that year, the exported Hollywood star returning to her roots as a believable all around cleaning woman named Raimunda whose chaotic life constantly hangs in the balance. She has to care for a lazy a husband and a blossoming teenage daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo), who doesn’t know that – one of the movie’s three spoilery secrets – the man glued to the couch and Canal Plus soccer isn’t her father. Raimunda also surprisingly becomes a restaurateur, feeding a film crew and singing for them. All of this is happening while Almodovar contributes to my belief that Romance-language cinema’s landscape would never be the same without its fart jokes.
The movie begins with Raimunda and her sister Sole (Lola Duenas) polishing their mother Irene’s (Carmen Maura) burial plot, foreshadowing the family’s return to the past. Or rather, return of the past as Sole discovers that Irene is alive and has hidden herself for years. Sole plays this game with her, hiding Irene in plain sight as a Russian immigrant assisting her hairdressing business.
Thankfully the movie doesn’t end with the next door neighbour, cancer-stricken Agustina (Bianca Portillo), revealing Irene’s scandalous secret. Instead, Irene privately talks to Raimunda and voices out another cyclical, inter-generational family secret, her method of doing so somehow lessening the shock and elevating Pedro’s material from soap to a high drama about reconciliation. In essence, an improvement on a special Roman Polanski plot twist. After this heart to heart talk Irene goes to Agustina. Irene is supposed to be the ghost but it’s Raimunda who slithers away from the door. In a way this is Raimunda passing the torch back, giving her mother a loving goodbye as the older generation must care for each other as an act of contrition. The only way for all women to move on is to do things and pay their dues properly.