Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Volver, Pedro Almodovar, Spain 2006

Having recently watched Almodovar's latest offering, Broken Embraces - which didn't really do it for me - inspired me to take another look at his previous film, Volver.
Volver, which loosely translates into return or come back, is indeed a return in several ways: first, it is a return to the best of Almodovar; this ‘earthy’, unpretentious, personal, heartfelt film is reminiscent of some of his best work, such as, for instance, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. It is also a return for Penelope Cruz, Volver marking her third collaboration with Almodovar, the first after seven years. Lastly, the title alludes to the return of Raimunda’s mother, Irene, and to their return to the village Raimunda grew up in. Almodovar, who was raised in a village in the La Mancha region, pits the village against the city, with the latter faring badly, depicted as it is as an ugly, impersonal, urban hell. However, in spite of a certain nostalgia, Almodovar knows better than dabbling in stereotypes as straying husbands are not relegated to the big city. Nor is child abuse.

Volver, the tango, also stands at the centre of the film, hammering it home in a hauntingly elegiac ballad, beautifully sung by Cruz, that return is essentially what Volver, the film, is all about. Like in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, men – straight or gay - have little room in Almodovar’s world, which is primarily a women’s world where men are intruders at best, child molesters at worst. Volver is, at heart, a celebration of motherhood in its truest form. Coming out of the film makes you want to burrow your head in your mother’s bosom, and feast at her table, gobble down her wholesome, hearty, home-cooked meal after weeks of living on fast-food fare. Almodovar’s voluptuous earth-mothers are loyal Amazons abounding with vigour, sticking up for each other and generating energy like the omnipresent windmills that are ruining La Mancha’s serene landscape. On film, until now this city warrior who crawled out of the woodwork, had found her most sincere personification in Anna Magnani’s earth-bound, uncouth, strong, hands-on Roman mamas, notably in Visconti’s Bellissima, which Almodovar has Maura’s Irene watching in admiration, although we know that she’s really watching her daughter, Cruz’s Raimunda, who is Magnani’s 21st century counterpart.

But it wouldn’t be an Almodovar film if there wasn’t a reference to a Hollywood classic in it somewhere, and with classic Hollywood being short on hands-on, uncouth earth-mothers, he opted for Mildred Pierce, in which Joan Crawford plays a rags-to-riches mother who, by sheer determination and willpower, becomes the successful owner of a restaurant chain. According to the lore, in her private life Crawford herself was quite the opposite of Mildred: not a loving and caring mother, but a frantic, self-centred dragon, whose obsession with cleanliness drove her daughter Christina to distraction. An ironic twist which, I’m sure, isn’t lost on any self-respecting film-buff.

Volver is out on DVD.