Volver (Spain; 121 min.)

directed by: Pedro Almodóvar
starring: Penelope Cruz; Carmen Maura; Lola Dueñas
Bruce says: "Two sisters each harbor a dreadful secret. Glamorous sister Raimunda (Penelope Cruz) is trying to cover up her husband's murder; mousy sister Sole (Lola Dueñas) is fearful that friends and family will discover that the ghost of her mother has taken up residence in her home. Augustina (Blanca Portillo), a close family friend and caretaker of the sisters’ Aunt Paula (Chus Lampreave), also has her own secret which she may carry to her grave since she is dying of cancer.

"From the film’s opening sequence of women polishing their family tombstones, the bonding of women is the theme. Their camaraderie spans generations, crosses class barriers and includes many types of relationships. The men in VOLVÉR are secondary. Death plays several major roles: sorrow, poignancy, relief and mystery.

"Almodóvar is not afraid to mix his genres. VOLVÉR is part ghost story, melodrama and farce. Warm and satisfying on some levels VOLVÉR is less complicated than BAD EDUCATION, Almodóvar’s last film; however it similarly suffers from a script that is not commensurate with Almodóvar’s wide array of filmmaking talents. The plot twists are obvious well in advance. The farcical aspects would be more effective were the audience made totally aware of what was going on rather than being forced to guess the obvious. The editing could be tighter.

"Almodóvar gets superb performances from 'his women.' Dueñas, Portillo, Lampreave and Maura are particularly strong. It is a treat to see Maura reunited with Almodóvar after their many years of feuding. Penélope Cruz - half Twiggy, half Dolly Parton – lends veracity to the farce. Although she has successfully played other not-so-glamorous roles such as the cleaning woman in DON’T MOVE, Cruz’ innate style elevates her slightly above the class of woman she is portraying.

"The artistic design is perfect and the cinematography, flawless. Two overhead shots (always a favorite of mine) are magnificent: one features Cruz’ cleavage; the other, women mourning at a funeral. 3.5 cats"

Michael says: "Volver mean “to return” in Spanish, and the return in the latest film by Pedro Almodóvar has a couple of meanings for me. Certainly it points to the return of main character Raimunda’s mother Irene, who has been dead for four years. It may also refer to the return of Carmen Maura (who plays Irene) former Almodóvar star and muse who had a falling out with the director after their triumphant film WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN in 1988. It’s their first collaboration in nearly 20 years. Maura has appeared in 42 films with other directors in the interim. For me, this reunion returns the Spanish director to the filmic heights of that comedic masterpiece of the past.

"Unlike most Almodóvar admirers, I generally prefer the irreverent, dark comedies from early in his career to the more 'mature' Almodóvar that has captured the hearts of a larger audience. WOMEN ON THE VERGE was the pinnacle of his greatness for me, followed by a string of lackluster, “okay” films. With ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER he started strong with a series of films that tackled his dark subject matter with a little lest camp and a little more drama. His last two films, TALK TO HER and BAD EDUCATION, many consider to be his best, and while I liked TALK TO HER well enough, I was disappointed in BAD EDUCATION. Almodóvar is a skilled filmmaker no matter what he’s doing, but I find him more uneven as a writer.

"With VOLVER, Almodóvar unites the dark comedies of his early days with his newfound maturity. The camp elements are back, but they are tempered with love. The dark subject matter is there, but it’s overshadowed by a sense of sisterhood and family. The humor is broad, but it’s good-natured. It’s also a very female-focused film, with the magnificent cast made up almost entirely of women. Almodóvar, never one to hide his homosexuality, clearly loves women and films them with an almost worshipful reverence. VOLVER kicks off with Raimunda, her daughter Paula and her sister Sole fighting the wild east wind while cleaning off Irene’s grave alongside the other widows of the village tending to their lost loved ones. The rapid-fire dialogue that is long a hallmark of Almodóvar’s is delightfully direct and instantly makes you chuckle. On the way home, they stop in to visit their Aunt Paula, nearly blind and slightly senile, yet still somehow living alone. Augustina, a friend from next door, does check in on Aunt Paula periodically to make sure she’s doing okay.

"Back home Raimunda’s world collapses after her husband loses his job and a dark secret is uncovered. At the same time, Aunt Paula passes away, kicking off the main storyline. It seems that the spirit of Raimunda and Sole’s mother has been tending to Aunt Paula, and with her passing, she decides to join her daughter Sole. While Raimunda is too caught up in her own drama, opening a new restaurant and dealing with her husband, she fails to notice Sole’s or even her own daughter’s strange behavior. The revelation that Irene has returned to her daughters is the emotional turning point for Raimunda. VOLVER is all about family and the secrets they keep, and Almodóvar’s secrets are filled with darkness and melodrama, but somehow it all works in the framework of comedy.

"This is clearly the best role Penelope Cruz has ever had, and she acquits herself wonderfully. She navigates wild emotional swings while conveying that absurdist sense required in an Almodóvar comedy. Carmen Maura is nothing short of delightful, and it seems that she clearly relishes being reunited with her director. I also loved Lola Dueñas who brought a bright-eyed, comic timing to Sole that really made her character sparkle.

"As always, the filmmaker’s camera acts as another character in the film. Almodóvar has an eye that makes everything from Penelope Cruz’s cleavage to an old woman in a nightie a work of art. For me, VOLVER is Almodóvar’s great work since WOMEN ON THE VERGE. 5 cats"