By Al Kratina
Jan 28, 2007 - 16:30
Directed by: Pedro Almodovar
Starring: Penelope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Duenas, Yohana Cobo
Written by: Pedro Almodovar
Produced by: Esther Garcia
Genres: Comedy, Drama
Release Date: 26 January, 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R some sexual content and language.
Penelope Cruz is nominated for Best Actress for Volver.
Considered almost a lock for an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, it was a real surprise when Almodovar's new film Volver was passed up. It’s a quintessential example of the kind of work that's made Spain's premier auteur filmmaker a household name among cinephiles. It's light-hearted, upbeat, and laced with enough blood and deviant sexuality to roughly approximate watching a Grand Guignol show from pervert's row.
Actually, 'deviant' is something of a unnecessary pejorative. It's long been one of Almodovar's goals to present sexuality as a wide spectrum instead of a binary equation of normal versus weird. His films explore a range of peccadilloes, quirks, and illegal fetishes, but all as backdrops to the main drama, which is what keeps his films from functioning as later entries in the Teen Trannies Goin’ Wild series. In Volver, Penelope Cruz struggles to cope with the accidental killing of her husband by her daughter, as the ghost of her long dead mother haunts her sister and works in an illegal hair salon. If that seems confusing and dark, what's more confusing is the levity and brightness with which Almodovar handles the material. Light without being fluffy, the dark elements, only serve to heighten the story's emotional impact, as if My Big Fat Greek Wedding had a plot instead of an endless parade of Windex jokes. Life, no matter how complex and depressing it gets, is not lived in the rainy, grime-infested set decoration of films like Seven, unless you live in Vancouver, and that ever-present sense of every-day realism helps ground the film's flights of fancy.
Almodovar shoots the movie in bright colors, sunny lighting, and long-take cinematography. Thankfully, these long shots help to further motivate the film's realism, instead of standing out as virtuoso braggadocio. As well, Almodovar has always been capable of teasing great performances out of his cast, and though I find Cruz kind of annoying, but that's only because she's doing a great imitation of my mother. The highlight of the film, in terms of performance, comes from Yohana Cobo as the daughter, who's got a firm grasp not only of line delivery, but of facial reactions and the moments between the lines. The mother, played by Carmen Maura, allows a light comic touch to hover over an inherent tragic sensibility, and Cruz's sister reminds me very much of a less neurotic version of Chloe from 24. The script is well-written, and builds up to a climax that should be cataclysmic, but is underplayed to the point where it perfectly matches the light tone of the film, without overbearing all that came before it. With Volver, Almodovar gives us a dark, twisted, and sexual tale with as much sunshine as Spain can muster, with a lightness that's as infectious as an STD. And that's an impressive feat, which no doubt requires great talent, delicacy, and a large amount of antibiotics.
Rating: 8 on 10