Movie Review: Volver (2006)

This is a part of my Pedro Almodovar Marathon.

Volver 2

Being candid, I’m not quite sure how to discuss this film. While I don’t mean to make it sound like the plot is akin to The Tree of Life where the filmmaker has purposefully made his point difficult to get at, or maybe the point itself was that obtuse to begin with, I find myself trying to look for more than what is on the surface and not sure where to start.

The plot of Volver follows Raimunda and Sole, two sisters who’re trying to figure out life. After the death of their Aunt Paula, Irene’s (Sole and Raimunda’s mother) ghost appears to Sole and ends up staying with her pretending to be a Russian emigrant who helps her out with Sole’s at home hair salon business. Also at the same time Raimunda is dealing with the fact that her life is upside-down with working three jobs seven days a week and her husband is now out of work. One day she finds an opportunity to take over a neighbour’s restaurant and finds a passion in that where she didn’t quite know before. This all while dealing with the death of her husband.

There are so many things happening in this movie that I’m already unsure of what is the pitch as opposed to the really deep cuts that you want a movie like this to make on you when you are walking out of that dark room two hours later.

One thing that remains at the forefront of my mind throughout is death. Not necessarily the morality, mortality or even the effects of death, but rather just death itself. Irene, being death, appearing to her daughter with hopes of helping her brings up thoughts of not just afterlife but an incomplete life. Is a life ever complete? Then one thinks of the people that are left after death. While the act of death ends the story for one person it leaves others with a gaping hole to fill. People like Sole go and mourn while Raimunda looks forward trying to ignore that hole in her.

Volver 1At the end of the day, more than death or working like a dog, this movie is about mothers and daughters and the love that lies between them. We see Raimunda and Paula as they grow closer and further away over the plot of Paco, Raimunda’s husband and Paula’s father, as well as Irene and Sole. The definitive line in the film is “It really hurts when a daughter doesn’t love her mother”. We see Paula struggle to lover her mother, while at the same time Sole jumps at the chance to love hers. This can even be extended to Agustina (Blanca Portillo) who searches for answers as to what happened to her mother, that left her to be an orphan/gypsy (the film never answers what they really mean when the call someone a gypsy).

Regardless of all of these great themes and ideas I’m still at odds ends as how I truly feel about this movie. It amazes me how Almodovar is able to make his world feel tactile while also very much like a fairy tale. The colours blend so well that everything feels too intentional for me to mistake this world as reality, which works perfectly with the plot of Irene. Where I spend the whole film believing that she’s a ghost without every truly questioning the logic of it all. I end up accepting the film on those terms. However, at the same time I always have this feeling that something is amiss and I can’t quite out my finger on it.

This all ties into the fact that even though I enjoy most of what Almodovar is doing with his characters in bits it feels like too much when I try to conceptualize it all. When I try to think of what the film does on a grander scale I almost feel lost in details and I’m unsure as to whether that’s a failing of the film or of me as a viewer.

But, unless I’m lost at life it still doesn’t diminish the fact that the film has something to offer and I pray that when (or if you’ve already seen it) found something enjoyable in there.

What do you think of Volver?

  • Steven Flores

    For me, this is one of Almodovar’s most essential films. Not only does it feature his best collaboration with Penelope Cruz but also the long-awaited reunion between he and Carmen Maura.

  • Andrew Robinson

    I guess I would agree. Only 3 films seen so far this is probably THE film that shows me how intentional he is with his craft and I like that. However, did I enjoy it enough that it’s in my brain as the go to movie that I think of (yet)… I don’t think so. I still feel Skin I Live In is the best film I’ve seen of his, but a lot more to go through of his before we seriously have that conversation.