Volver (review) — A homecoming, an unburdening of anguish
Volver (“To go back” in Spanish) is a 2006 Spanish comedy-drama film written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar. The film revolves around an eccentric family of women from a wind-swept region south of Madrid, Penélope Cruz stars as Raimunda, a working-class woman forced to go to great lengths to protect her 14-year-old daughter Paula. To top off the family crisis, her mother Irene returns from the dead to tie up loose ends.
This film is on the surface mostly about the way various female characters of different generations deal with the rich culture surrounding death in La Mancha, but it is also much more than that. What is most unexpected about Volver is that it’s not really about murder or the afterlife, but simply incorporates those awkward developments into the problems of daily living. Almodóvar’s characters approach their dilemmas not with metaphysics but with common sense.
All of the main leads, especially Raimunda, an impossible character played by Penélope, left a strong impression on me. They show the way women struggle and endure on to extend their full strength under extreme circumstances as well as under traditional Spanish norms, how they stick by each other’s sides and resist predicaments as a group.
There was one scene that shocked me — when Soledad arrived at the funeral, flipped through the blinds and saw a whole bunch of men standing on the other side, there was fear and uncertainty written on her face. It clearly demonstrates the invisible gap between genders, implicating that there is still an imbalance on the part of Spanish women — at the same time, there was another scene in which the husband was sitting on the sofa watching a match with a beer in hand after work, while Raimunda had to do housework and wash his feet after staying at home managing the house all day. I feel that at least in that time, women are still viewed as a product with functions, which is similar to the situation in Te Doy Mis Ojos.
In Volver, we can observe the influence of 50s Hollywood melodramas on Almodóvar’s storytelling style, with all the dark secrets revealing in the family and plot twists, and he is equally turned on by the 50s palette of bright basic colours and cheerful optimism that goes without saying. Here the dominant color is red — for blood, passion and Almodóvar himself incarnated.
Volver, as its name implies, seems to me is the homecoming for Almodóvar, where he revisits his home town and honouring all the women in his life that have accepted him in their lives. It is a kind of undoing, the abolition of anguish. Its emotional structure works backward from melancholy to mirth. By going in the reverse, he’s unburdening the melodrama of the build ups and returning the audience and himself to the state where all the relationship flows openly between each other, where we exist comfortably with others and ourselves.