Sunday, November 05, 2006
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Fien Print Rating (out of 100): 79
In a Nutshell:
You don't blame Pedro Almodovar for being melodramatically convoluted any more than you'd fret about Spielberg being skillfully manipulative or Goddard being dyspeptically French. That being said, the number of half-gestated films suspended in Amodovar's "Volver" amniotic fluid is a bit daunting. I'm not complaining, mind you. "Volver" is one part ghost story, one part murder semi-mystery and one part woman-recovers-spirit-through-food celebration and it's striking that not a single one of the stories goes to a traditionally satisfying place and yet the movie resolves in an emotionally confident manner. The movie takes a traditional Almodovar theme -- women coming together to reclaim their identities through sisterhood, motherhood and friendship -- and delivers them in just about the least Almodovar-esque manner imaginable. An Almodovar movie you could almost go to with your grandparents? How peculiar.
The movie is a celebration of leading lady Penelope Cruz, with Almodovar taking obvious pleasure in reclaiming his frequent collaborator after otherwise respectable American filmmakers -- yes, I'm looking at you Billy Bob Thornton and Cameron Crowe -- conspired to convince English-speaking audiences she couldn't act (see also what Michael Mann did to Gong Li this summer in "Miami Vice"). In her native tongue, treated with directorial respect, Cruz is captivating. She's funny, passionate and grounded. Even if Almodovar didn't insert a clip of Visconti's "Bellissima," you'd know he was approaching Cruz as a far sexier version of Anna Magnani's Earth Mother archetype, with Cruz's rather amazing cleavage serving as a running visual joke as well as a key verbal punchline later. As much buzz as there's already been for Cruz receiving an Oscar nomination, I'd love a bit of extra talk to focus on Carmen Maura, another frequent Almodovar favorite.
The film's title, generally translated "To Return" or "To Come Back" takes many meanings with in the film, both literal resurrection, but also a darker idea of history repeating itself and old misdeeds coming unburied. It's also a reference to the film's most Almodovar-ian sequence in which Cruz lip-synchs a famous Argentinean tango of the same name. Exiting the theater, I hear at least one person complain about how fake that scene seemed. Such people shouldn't be allowed at Almodovar movies.