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In 1999's brilliant All About My Mother, Almodóvar told the story of a mother seeking to overcome the loss of her son by revisiting ghosts from her past - namely the boy's transvestite father. In Volver, Raimunda (Cruz) is faced with the literal return of her dead mother at the most inopportune of moments, forcing her to reconcile long buried differences. At the heart of both films is a resilient group of women - strong, kind and free of men. Yet in Volver there is even less male influence than in Almodóvar's past work, and the only time that men become major factors at all is either through sex, violence or sexual violence.
Cruz plays Raimunda as a women so gorgeously put together, on every level, that she has little time or need for men. When they do impose themselves on her life she treats them as an annoyance, preferring to concern herself with her daughter, friends and family. Her husband is an objectifying slob who she feels little for, and she easily removes him from her life. When an attractive movie man hits on her at a café, Raimunda smiles but brushes him off in favor of singing for her daughter Paula.
The film is not primarily concerned with male-female relations either, but rather the rare topic of womanhood itself. This is a closely-knit group of women who don't hesitate to help each other out of the tightest of jams. Featuring a prostitute, a widow, a cancer patient and two abused daughters, it's a rag-tag bunch that pulls together in love and friendship. They trust each other - lending money and help at a moments notice. They are also unafraid to get down and dirty when the situation calls for it - doing everything from moving large refrigerators to digging secret graves.
In one particular shot we watch Raimunda struggle to lift a human body into a freezer after she has just dragged it half-a-block. As Cruz lifts it onto her knee, and then pushes it up onto the ledge and finally inside the fridge, we watch in awe of her strength. Earlier Almodóvar focuses in on a paper towel quickly seeping up blood spilled on a kitchen floor, it's a harrowing image but one that reinforces the character of Raimunda. She intakes all the pain, suffering and insanity of her life and is somehow able to move forward for the benefit of others.
The 20th century brought monumental winds of change to the Spanish countryside, and as more and more families moved to the cities to find work, people where somewhat disconnected from their village roots. The opening panning shot shows hundreds of women tending to the graves of family, and sometimes even their own, a nod to respect for tradition but also to the difficulty of the female role in this society. But Raimunda is a woman who survives change, holds onto her past with pride and carries herself with a dignity that sparkles through the warmth of her eyes.
At the end of the fantastical journey the other women have gained from her confidence, and she herself has learned "oodles" about the struggles of her mother and the women who paved her way. But Volver is also a rapturously witty comedy, albeit one that deals with subject matter as dense as incest, cancer and murder. It's the lighthearted exchanges between the women (and wonderful performances from the entire cast) that make the film such an enjoyable experience. Almodavor spins a devilishly intricate thriller around these women, but in the end I'd pay money just to watch them talk. SEE ALSO: www.sonyclassics.com/volver
Imran Siddiquee is a freelance writer pursuing self-expression in all its forms. This includes the occasional contribution to LAS as well as writing blogs, essays, short stories, an unpublished novel and some screenplays. He also creates horribly amateur music with his brother Yusuf.
See other articles by Imran Siddiquee.
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