Pedro Almodovar is easily one of the most sensational filmmakers still working today. His perspective is entirely unique and his attention to detail is unparalleled. It’s not an easy feat to remain as consistent as Almodovar has over the years. But at what cost? Some claim that he’s taken to making the same movies over and over. While there are definite thematic elements that he returns to time and time again, that shouldn’t be mistaken for the same movie. One notable example is his 2006 film, Volver.
Once again, Almodovar finds himself with strong women at every corner, mother worship, and of course, the obligatory twist. Still, if it sounds as if I’m writing it off as tired material, please don’t be mistaken. Almodovar constantly finds a way to maintain the archetypes he’s established for himself, while re-inventing his characters at every opportunity.
The clear case for this is Penelope Cruz’s character, Raimunda. Although it’s arguable who the film’s main character is, Raimunda is certainly the most intoxicating of the bunch. What I find so compelling about her character is that she’s clearly such a strong female influence. However, and this may just be a trend I’ve noticed in American movies but, in order for a woman to be “taken seriously”, there always seems to be a sacrifice on her part. In order for a woman to be a strong representation of a powerful female, she must forsake her visibly feminine identity. Raimunda is able to hold her own while never sacrificing her feminine beauty. It sounds like such a shallow thing to say, but it truly is remarkable the way that the character operates as her own woman, but a beautiful and confident woman as well.
Then again, that’s kind of always been Almodovar’s thing, but there’s something so striking about Raimunda that moves beyond Cruz’s obvious outer beauty. Truth be told, Volver owes a great deal of its success due to the film’s contextualization. The reason Raimunda is such a powerful female character is the women that surround her. This isn’t to say that the other women are weak, but the relationships that are built amongst them all over the course of the movie.
It’s impressive how Almodovar is able to tackle all sorts of female relationships in the span of a two hour movie. Hell, I’ve been surrounded by women all my life and I still can’t make sense of all of their relationships. But somehow, Volver‘s women seem so natural, so at home with one another, that it’s hard not to believe. Sure, there are some of the more obvious relationships, such as Raimunda and her daughter Paula, but even that shouldn’t be taken for granted. As usual, Almodovar’s flights of fancy place them in situations that not many other mothers and daughters would find themselves in, but despite their outlandish subplot, the interaction between the two is very organic. Even Raimunda’s relationship with her own mother, which is more bizarre than I can put into words, feels very sincere despite the circumstances that bring them back together. But in the end, it’s the core relationship between Raimunda and Sole that carries the movie. Countless movies have attempted to give voice to sibling rivalry, only to fall short or rely on cliches to move the movie forward. The intensity, the bitterness and resentment, but most importantly, the rare moment of affection all seem grounded in reality. The relationship between the two sisters is never fully explained to the audience, but it makes sense. After all, it’s rare that we ever get the entire history of people’s relationships in real life, so I wouldn’t expect any differently from this movie. Still, it’s clear that there’s history between the two and it’s more complicated than can be put into words.
It’s difficult to put my finger on what it is that attracts me to Volver. Almodovar’s effortless ability to create an outlandish and simultaneously organic world is certainly a contributing factor. His bold use of color makes the movie all the more visually appealing, but Volver runs deeper than that. Almodovar’s worship of his female characters and their dimensionality is unlike many filmmakers today. All of these things combine to create a rich portrait of what a woman is willing to do for her daughter and make Volver a film I’d be happy to go back to.