Saturday, April 28, 2012

Volver: a review

I had to write a review for a course I was taking recently. I thought it might provide a little variety, so here goes.

Film: Volver
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Released: 2006
Cast:  Penélope CruzCarmen Maura and Lola Dueñas
The minute Volver opens, we know we’re in for a strange ride. A rural cemetery is the hub of activity for a bunch of cheery women scrubbing and decorating tombstones with almost festive enthusiasm. It could well have led up to a song and dance sequence. The scene though supposedly strange to our cloistered eyes is seems extremely normal in the context of the film. Like what could possibly be odd about decking graves and being extremely chirpy in a cemetery, right. 
As Raimunda (Penelope Cruz), Sole (Carmen Maura) and young Paula (Lola Dueñas) leave the cemetery we swept along into a fast pace film that largely revolves around women and the roles they are required to play sometimes.
This film mostly revolves around its strong women lead characters, women that stand together through anything.  They come together across generations, long separations and misunderstandings to hold each other up.
After Paula’s step father tries to rape her and ends up dead the plot unravels and the dirty linen begins to tumble out the cupboard. A very real ghost adds that constant element of unpredictability to the film. I was sitting on the edge for almost the entire film, and for someone who was trained to watch and review cinema dispassionately, that really means something.
Cruz’s performance in the film was undoubtedly one of her best ever. She radiates from the centre stage, bouncing between someone who has had to murder her husband and someone who finds out her mother was never dead, effortlessly.  Within the film itself she is required to put on a cheery face when the crew of a film approaches her to cater for the duration of their shooting. Every bit the gracious hostess while around the crew and in the cafe and when she is on her own her darker side and the burden she carries shows through her silent exterior.
The director also takes an occasional break from a capable verite approach to showcase cinematic artistry, which the subject of the film presents ample opportunity to do. You see that in the unexpected overhead shot of Sole when she is surrounded by mourners, or the extreme close ups of Cruz preparing the last dinner for the crew. The shots of the mint in the mojitos and of Cruz chopping peppers look so divine you want to frame them and put them up around your house.
Diversions from dark underlying plot are provided in plenty. The scenes of the crew’s party transport you into an entirely different atmosphere, the flamenco guitar and Cruz’s beautiful singing, shots of old cobbled streets in rural Spain and the character of the friendly befuddled sex worker that Cruz ropes in to help her.
The plot develops in such a way there is never a dull moment in the film. Toward the end the director ties up the film with Hitchcock-like revelations. Volver takes a very real story and portrays it in almost with extra ordinary finesse and classic storytelling. The aesthetics of the film and the director’s use of shades colour red through the film to indicate when things are about to change were stellar.
A great film to watch, I highly recommend it. If you do not usually watch subtitled films as they distract, trust me this really is worth the watch and the emotion will come through despite the language difference. Enjoy! 

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