It's been emotional.
When youngster Paula (Yohana Cobo) fends off her father's paedophillic advances with extreme prejudice, Raimunda (Penelope Cruz) does just what any loving mother would, hiding the body in the freezer of a friend's recently closed restaurant. The timing is particularly awful, what with the death of Raimunda's aunt and her impending funeral. To the black affrontation of her hometown village, she deep sixes the funeral in favour of a more pressing corpse disposal leaving her sister Sole (Lola Duenas) to attend to the necessary.
Along with a few boxes of her Aunt's junk, Sole takes her mother, Abuela Irene (Carmen Maura) back home to the big smoke. This is slightly unusual, because she's dead. The razor sharp readers we cater to will no doubt realise that there's something a bit iffy about a ghost that needs to hitch a ride in the boot of a car, and horror genre lovers will no doubt know of few oddly corporeal ghosts that excel in making tasty preserves rather than giving folks the heebie jeebies. The game's afoot, Watson!
It's unravel the past time, while Raimunda tries to keep the present from unraveling by opening up the restaurant to cater for a film crew shooting in the area. As is typical with Pedro Almodovar's work, the real narrative has little to do with the setup, this whole patricide quickly being something of a side issue as Raimunda, Abuela and Paula work out the various knots in their gnarled family tree.
Volver is really rather good, although I struggle to explain exactly why. Great acting, interesting situations and dense, complex characterisation. That gives you the reasons at least, if not the feel of the piece or the conveying any of the urgency which you ought to be seeking this out, especially given the year we've had. Instead let me focus on Penelope Cruz, because all in all she's a very agreeable thing to focus on. Actually, let's not focus on her, lest the lechery grow overpowering. It does, however provide yet more proof of Tom Cruise's 'delicate' 'mental' state; no sane heterosexual part exchanges Cruz for Katie Holmes, of all people. Unless his Scientologist lizardpeople overlords told him to, of course.
I'm not the world's biggest Almodovar fan, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to justify that position. He delivers yet another example of dense, layered scripting that doesn't waste a single line of dialogue. There's no redundancy, everything said having meaning or effect that becomes clear by the end of the piece.
Volver winds up being a tightly focussed, adroitly acted, neatly paced, occasionally funny and often touching film. I don't like it quite enough to wind up a five gun salute for it, but to be honest I've nothing more than a curmudgeonly gut instinct to base that on. Volver's about as good a film as you'll be able to see in a cinema this year.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.
Carmen Maura (Abuela Irene)
Lola Duenas (Sole)
Blanca Portillo (Agustina)
Yohana Cobo (Paula)