Women on the Verge; Almodovar and Cruz Make 'Volver' a Quirky Triumph
Byline: David Ansen
Pedro Almodovar's latest film includes child abuse, murder, cancer, a corpse stashed in a freezer, a ghost and a village obsessed with the dead--in other words, it's one of his most benign movies. That's the wonderful paradox of "Volver," which Almodovar describes as "a meeting of 'Mildred Pierce' and 'Arsenic and Old Lace'." It's a mellow melodrama, filled with comedy, compassion and a sense of female community. The great Spanish director's fourth triumph in a row--following "All About My Mother," "Talk to Her" and "Bad Education"--"Volver" (which means "coming back") flows effortlessly between peril and poignancy, the real and the surreal, even life and death.
If the all-male "Bad Education" was Almodovar's darkest recent film, the all-female "Volver" is his most embracing. It's about three generations of women overcoming bad marriages, crimes of passion, adultery, familial feuds and, not insignificantly, the evils of TV. The setting is working-class Madrid and La Mancha, Almodovar's hometown, which seems to be populated entirely by spinsters and widows, who spend their afternoons in the cemetery spiffing up the tombstones.
This is where we meet Raimunda (Penelope Cruz), one in a long line of formidable Almodovar heroines. For those who know Cruz only from her anemic appearances in English-language movies, her passionate, earthy performance here as a fiercely protective but vulnerable mother will come as a revelation. …