No News is Bad News. Join the SA Current Press Club.

Return to Paradise 

Raimunda (Penélope Cruz) smiles vacantly as visions of sugarplums dance in her head.
Dir. Pedro Almodóvar; writ. Pedro Almodóvar; feat. Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo (R)

Maybe it’s cinematic sacrilege to admit I’ve never desired ownership of a Pedro Almodóvar movie, because the goodness (and sometimes disconcertion) sticks in a way that’s uncanny and magical. For me, the occasional rental suffices; or did, until I screened Volver and felt decidedly otherwise. That’ll teach me to say never.

Volver undoubtedly embodies the Almodóvar standard of excellence, but it exudes a refreshing lightness (in spite of its subject matter) that acts as a post-Bad Education chamomile tea, with umbrella. And yet, the forwardly feminine Volver is simultaneously a curiously fitting companion to Bad Education — a primarily male narrative — in that they both explore the reverberations of sexual abuse by a paternal figure (sins of the father, you might say) in the director’s signature suspended-judgment fashion.  

The colorful film centers on Raimunda (Cruz), an overworked mother of one (two, if you count her deadbeat husband) living in Madrid. Raimunda is not only holding down multiple jobs, she’s busy maintaining relationships with her teenage daughter Paula, her sister Sole, an elderly aunt, and a cousin with cancer. This doesn’t leave her with much time or energy to indulge the aforementioned deadbeat husband, Paco, who decides to prey on Paula (and pays the bloody consequences). (Oh, don’t look at me like that, I didn’t give that much away.)

Meanwhile, Sole faces an unusual consequence for leaving her vehicle’s hatchback open and unattended for more than a moment: The ghost of their mother hops in (really) and follows her home. While there, she helps Sole run a salon and generally complicates things. How about that for quirky? I’m happy to report that’s just the beginning: Watch for more Almodóvarisms. For example, as Raimunda cleans her whipped-out, stabbed-dead husband off the kitchen floor, notice that Paco’s phallus receives the same sort of masterfully-implied-but-never-in-the-frame treatment as the snake in Talk to Her. Interesting.

As always, Almodóvar’s work rides the fence when it comes to the objectification of women. But I like the naked intent of particular shots, celebrating T&A so matter-of-factly, so free of guilt that they confound the American convention of building a scenario of feigned importance around cleavage (when everybody knows it’s only about cleavage). In Volver, cleavage is about cleavage, and that’s all right with me. Almodóvar’s female characters are whole, and voluptuousness is a part of that — especially for Raimunda as a mother-earth-goddessy figure.

On that topic, as much as I’d love to speak ill of anyone who starred in Sahara (William H. Macy, why did you have to make me love you?) — or any former lovers of Tom Cruise, for that matter — Cruz inarguably gives an Oscar-worthy performance in Volver. She has a range here not many actors are capable of, and Volver thrives on the believability of her character’s dubiousness, both hardened to and saddened by the death of her lazy, repulsive husband. (Almodóvar might not judge, but I do.)

Raimunda is the kind of modern-movie semi-superheroine that, all hard knocks aside, might dwell in an imagined, bold-hued Europe parallel to Amelie Poulain’s. Who wouldn’t want to live there? Owning the DVD, alas, is as close as most of us will get. 

San Antonio Current works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of San Antonio and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep San Antonio's true free press free.

More by Ashley Lindstrom

Read the Digital Print Issue

October 21, 2020

View more issues


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.


© 2020 San Antonio Current

Website powered by Foundation