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WGUC Reviews


Sony Pictures Classics
Rated R
Review by: Larry Thomas

Once upon a time in 1974, a young Spaniard named Pedro Almodovar got the movie-making bug. For five years he wrote and directed his own short films, until one day he managed to break in to features. The films, most of which starred Carmen Maura, bore titles like Dark Habits, Laws of Desire and Labyrinth of Passion. In no time at all, Almodovar carved out a reputation as the "Spanish John Waters," as he tackled subject matters that were dark, introspectively funny, and not previously explored in Spanish films.

Then he hit the international big time with 1988's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, a hysterical yet touching look at contemporary relationships. This was also the second of three films he was to make with a new star discovery, Antonio Banderas.

In checking the long line of accolades, award nominations, and award wins on Almodovar's resume, the list would make any filmmaker envious. When you add up the adulation directed toward, not only him, but for his individual films, the total is staggering.

His latest effort, Volver, which means, "to return," is no exception. At the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, Almodovar won Best Screenplay, while the female stars won as Best Ensemble cast. The film took five of Spain's Goya Awards, including Picture, Director, Screenplay and Actress. And leading lady Penelope Cruz is nominated for an Oscar as Best Actress.

In Volver, Cruz plays Raimunda, a hard-working woman with a teenage daughter and a louse of a husband. She and her sister Sole, beautifully played by Lola Dueñas, still mourn the loss of their parents in a fire some three years earlier. One day, the three women return to their home village to visit an elderly aunt, who is not doing well. The neighbor across the street tells Sole that some of the villagers have spoken of seeing the ghost of the dead mother in the aunt's house.

Returning to Madrid, a series of events is set in motion that would seem completely unbelievable on paper, but when woven into the fabric of an Almodovar film, are not only plausible, but quite refreshing. And to give away any of these events, and how the plot unfolds, would ruin any surprises. Suffice to say, the film takes the time to explore the relationships among all these hard-pressed, likeable women, and to tie up the story at the finale with a variation on the old adage "what goes around, comes around…" in more ways than one.

Penelope Cruz is excellent, and is worthy of her Oscar nomination. She's feisty, determined, caring, and doesn't trade on her exceptional beauty. Even better than Cruz, however, is Lola Dueñas as Sole, the younger sister. Sole is separated from her husband and runs an illegal beauty parlor in her apartment to support herself. Dueñas delivers a wonderful performance, exposing a sparking personality. And after a long absence from Almodovar films, Carmen Maura is back as the presence of their mother.

As with the best of Almodovar's writing and directing, Volver is touching, involving and funny -- not knee-slapping funny, but sly and ironic funny. His use of the camera in creating wide vistas, odd angles, and interesting perspectives is breathtaking. The original score by Alberto Iglesias echoes the work of movie music master Ennio Morricone, and is just fine in fitting the film.

It's too bad that foreign-language films can't develop more of a mainstream audience in this country, since many subtitled films are far superior to what's cranked out on a weekly basis at the "suit factories" that pass for Hollywood these days.

Volver is well worth your time to seek out and enjoy.


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