Mother, Sister, Daughter — Layers of Womanhood in Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver (2006)
Pedro Almodóvar’s film Volver (2006) is a blend of several themes including maternity, the countryside as a setting, as well as a female universe as the family. However, its title in itself is the exposition of its main theme, the word ‘volver’ “means ‘going back’ or ‘coming home’ in Spanish, or in the film, the return of the supposedly dead mother.
An overarching theme that looms over the entire plot of the film is the idea of the “supernatural”, which happens to be a first of the kind for the famously agnostic Almodóvar. This rare theme is presented with a purpose, which for Almodóvar’s film happens to be quite paradoxical: the “supernatural” is presented in a natural way, which strives to appear realistic. Maura’s character at several points plays along with the pretense of being a ghost, but several of her actions suggest otherwise. For example, during the appearance of an unknowing Raimunda, Irene (Maura’s character) hides herself underneath the bed, is visible to each and everyone she is within the sight of and even impersonates a Russian woman to conceal her identity.
All these actions are clear indications that Irene may not be a ghost, but the film’s set-up of her character convinces audiences until the end’s revelation that she is a mere spectre and does not exist in the flesh at all. However, when it is revealed that she is indeed alive and not an apparition, the big revelation of the moment hardly happens to be her life status. Through the combined testimonies of Agustina and Irene, viewers are exposed to the truth about the real fire, and that Irene both caused and survived it. In this way, the film seemingly mocks viewers for their vulnerability to indulge in fantasy-like illusions when the strange facts and events of reality are far more deceptive. Hence, as though almost presenting itself as a satire of the “supernatural” theme, Volver explores the deception that reality itself is capable of presenting.
Irene is not the only character who is representative of a mother, for Raimunda, in all her disheveled state, serves as a stronghold for her daughter Paula. As Irene laments over her formerly estranged and difficult relationship with her daughter Raimunda, she advises Paula to maintain the love between her own mother. However, this love is rarely lost on Raimunda for what she lacks in words, she makes up for in actions.
Paul Julian Smith describes her character as “the latest in the long line of Almodóvar’s tenacious and inventive mothers, risking all for a beloved daughter, Paula (Smith, 526)”.
Just like in Almodóvar’s other work All About My Mother, womanhood and motherhood take precedence over all other aspects of reality. The only men predominantly present in the film are either Alfredo, who is the restaurant owner, the man from the film crew, or Raimunda’s deceased husband. However, the husband, prior to his death, follows the same pattern of destructive behavior as the other detestable male in Raimunda’s life, her father. For, since Paula’s conception happens to be as a result of Raimunda’s rape by her father, her husband inflicts the same action upon Paula. Although he is not her biological father, this act is just as reproachable, and Raimunda does everything in her power to protect Paula after she attacks him and kills him in the process. Though Raimunda and Paula have suffered similar circumstances, certain mistakes in relationships are not repeated generationally. For, Raimunda is evidently aware of Paula’s misfortune, whereas the main reason why Irene has returned is because she was previously unaware of Raimunda’s own misfortune, and seeks to make up for the lack of this knowledge. The resolution is fulfilling for not only does Irene reconcile with Raimunda and brings in company to Sole’s lonely life, she also aids Agustina in her sickness till her absolute end. Moreover, such strong aspects of motherhood present in the film can perhaps also be understood through Almodóvar’s personal connection, for as Smith puts it,
“Almodóvar has confessed that he never felt closer to his mother than when shooting Volver (Smith, 527).”
Hence, motherhood triumphs as not just the central theme of the film but also as a tool for the plot’s resolution and the solidarity of its characters.
Much like Almodóvar’s other film All About My Mother, motherhood is a binding theme in Volver. As the title suggests, the film is about a return, not simply of the supposed ghost of Irene, but of herself in her true form and of her relationship with Raimunda and realization as a maternal figure to many of the women. One of the underlying themes of the film happens to be the “supernatural”, or rather its satire by exposition the deception that reality itself is capable of presenting.