With its irresistible richness, its color and warmth, Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver (2006) is set to capture your eyes. “Volver” is Spanish for “to return,” or to “come back”. It is said that it represents the director’s return to his childhood, magnifying the women in his life and the “small village” beliefs that shaped his imagination.
The film takes places between Madrid and the small town of La Mancha, and it tells the story of three women: Raimunda, a hard working mother played by Penelope Cruz; Paula, her teenage daughter, and Sole, Raimunda’s sister. Raimunda’s family life breaks with one dreadful act of violence, added to the fact that there is a secret about her late mother Irene (Carmen Maura) that surfaces when Irene returns from beyond the grave to make contact with her daughters. It’s definitely a plot strongly influenced by magical realism, fluctuating between life after death and daily life problems.
The first scene, showing several women compulsively cleaning the graves of their deceased, sets the influence of the dead over the living as the main theme.
The visual language is characterized by red, Almodovar’s signature. In Volver, red represents death, but it also represents women, passion and life (ironically).
The aesthetics also make reference to several masterpieces by iconic directors. In a way, we feel it’s almost an ode to Hitchcock, not only because of the constant suspense of the story, but because of the way some scenes are shot and the elements he highlights. The murder scene in Raimunda’s kitchen for example, with the bloody knife and the camera’s point of view over her cleavage, it’s a clear reminder to Psycho. At the same time, Penelope Cruz character inevitably make us think of Sophia Loren in films from Italian neorealism, depicted by tragic heroines and exaggerated sentimentality.
One thing is clear: Almodovar is above all a director who loves women. And it is in this context of beauty, richly sensual without being sexual, combined with mystery and absurdness that the gestures of tragicomedy and passion make complete sense.