Pedro Almodovar leaves his unique signature on every film he makes (with strong nods to Luis Buñuel).
On rare occasion he has taken a step backward (“Kika”), but usually there is evolution in his art and such is the case with “Volver.”
The Baby Boomers are getting on and many of Almodovar’s kinky gags are left in the somber shadows of this tale about forgiveness and redemption, about a return, volver, to make things one has left wrong, somehow right.
Stock elements, still not tired, abound. Regular people, women more often than not, struggling through harried lives both as victims of acts beyond their control, and others of their own doing; the zany and initially unlikely life circumstances that prove, with his unique writing touch, all-to-believable.
“Pedro” has always been great at understanding how the rules of art prevent it from truly mirroring life, and then breaking those rules.
This time the story is of one Agustina.
the scribe remembers back in 1992 when he and his director/partner walked into the massive American Film Market (AFM) on the beach at Santa Monica, stunned at the size of the movie industry and daunted at how to approach it with their tasty little art film, “Believe In Eve.”
Looking for a hand they would not get from friends who were not friends, they stopped in at the Spanish Film Office’s booth. There they saw a film proposal by director Bigas Luna who was seeking backing and, to that end, had shot a mere 15 minutes of footage and put it on video for all to see.
More importantly, was an accompanying “Interview”-styled magazine, about 16 pages long, containing pictures of a then-unknown 16-year old ingenue to die for named Penelope Cruz. scribe and director alike were sure that anybody with someone like that in their film was sure to get financing somewhere out of the sprawling den of iniquity that was the AFM, and they were right.
One year later, while the scribe was living in Spain, “Jamón Jamón” came out to much ado, and then succeeded famously further afield, the sexy young temptress riding its wave to a career in Hollywood unmatched by any prior Spanish lady thespian.
Cruz plays Agustina and, as her Oscar nomination would attest to, renders a break-out turn as a desperate but resourceful woman who has simultaneously taken over a friend’s restaurant behind his back, hidden and then disposed of her dead husband’s body following his stabbing at the hands of her daughter who is really her sister since her father raped and impregnated her years before.
Again, somehow it all works and is completely believable. The viewer is rooting for Agustina the whole way; if not falling completely in love with her dignified, working-girl’s effort to make everything from a scrambled-egg past and perilous present turn out right.
Cruz has traded in her former coltish body for a buxomy, full-bodied chassis very reminiscent of Sophia Loren. the scribe’s mother, a big fan of Cruz, insists “she’s much more beautiful than Sophia Loren,” which is certainly true, but the point is Penelope took some pointers, if not assumed wholesale, from an archetype both created and popularized by the older Italian woman.
Nothing wrong with that, especially since Penelope is so good at making the thing her own.
As mentioned, there is a dark shading to this work by Almodovar. Rape and incest and the years of tragedy catching up with people just doing their best to move past them because, in the end, how can you address such things?
"With a lot of pain" is the answer as Agustina, her daughter/sister, disappeared mom, and close neighbor from the old village who is dying of cancer, all sort out the mess bequeathed by those who came before and made worse by their own denial.
Sometimes there is time to face up to, forgive, and properly forget, before it's too late.
“Volver,” is funny, but not like bounding romps of Almodovar's past and, although less easily digested, we must be thankful the director was not locked into some eternal silly time space that would have reduced the power of, and trivialized his message through a repetition without that natural seasoning that says "life."