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VOLVER

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Penelope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Duenas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo
Director:  Pedro Almodovar
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish)
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Sony
Features:  See Review
Length:  123 Minutes
Release Date:  April 3, 2007

ďI donít know how I lived all these years without you.Ē

ďDonít say that.  Iíll start to cry.  And ghosts donít cry.Ē

Film ****

Volver means ďto go backĒ, and it has more than one meaning in this movie.  Itís about the return of people thought long gone.  Itís also about a return to a beautifully strange and wonderfully comic perfection by writer/director Pedro Almodovar.  And itís a return to form for Penelope Cruz, who never quite got the acclaim she deserved in the United States, but back with her mentor Almodovar, she shone again to the tune of a Best Actress Oscar nomination.

The best movies of Almodovar are slightly eccentric, undeniably funny, and frequently very moving.  He loves and celebrates strong women, but possibly never so much as here.  As Volver begins, we are introduced to La Mancha, a town famed for a man who tilted at windmills and where the men seem to die young and where the women dutifully attend the graves several times a week to keep them clean from the ever present wind.

Two of those women are Raimunda (Cruz) and Sole (Duenas), sisters whose parents died in a fire four years ago.  But the town is nothing if not superstitious.  Their friend Agustina (Portillo) claims to have heard their aging Aunt Paula talking to their departed mother.  But of course, Aunt Paula isnít quite all there.  Or is she?

Raimunda is also finding herself facing single parenthood, after an incident with her mate ends on kind of a sharp note, leaving her and her teenage daughter Paula (Cobo) alone and needing money.  The enterprising Raimunda makes the most of an opportunity when a restaurant she is supposed to sell for a former employer becomes a hot spot when a movie crew moves in to town and wants a place to dine every day!

But her biggest surprise seems yet to come when at long last, the image of her mother Irene (the wonderful Maura) appears to Sole.  What is she, and why?  Why is easierÖshe wants to help her daughters the way she looked after Aunt Paula until the end.  And what is she?  A spirit?  A ghost?  A figment of imagination?  If you think Iím going to give that away, youíve been standing in the La Mancha wind far too long.

This film is a joyous celebration of women as beautiful, strong, and capable.  The men in the movie are more talked about that seen, and they are the disappointments in this crazy, lovable world.  After Bad Education, a film with a decidedly different tone, Almodovar returns to the kind of characters and script where his spirit as an artist and a human being truly shines.

And speaking of shining, Penelope Cruz is indeed radiant.  I always lamented that she never found the kind of success in America she deserved, but all one has to do is see her in this movie to understand what the rest of the world has caught on to.  She is indeed an actress of the highest caliber, and her strength and charm infiltrate every frame of this picture. 

The whole cast is first rate.  Almodovar may be the Spanish Woody Allen, or vice versa, in that he writes the best parts for women and brings the best out of his talented troupe of actresses.  Together, he and them spin a wonderfully comic and ultimately moving tale of love, loss, hope and forgiveness.  Volver is one of Almodovarís finest, as well as one of last yearís best overall.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Yohana Cobo, who plays Penelope Cruz's daughter, is in reality only 11 years younger than her!

Video ****

This anamorphic transfer is simply gorgeous from start to finish.  Rich and colorful, with a wide and deep palate to choose from, images are crisp, sharp and clear throughout, with amazing detail in every corner of the frame.

Audio ***1/2

Despite being a mostly dialogue-oriented film, the 5.1 soundtrack is extremely lively and fairly dynamic, with music and wind offering some extra for the subwoofer and surround channels.  High marks.

Features ***1/2

The extras start with a delightful commentary by Pedro Almodovar and Penelope Cruz.  Itís in Spanish, but if you select it, it defaults with subtitles on so you can follow along.  There is a bizarre making-of featurette that has no spoken words.  There are intimate one-on-one interviews with Almodovar, Cruz and Carmen Maura, plus a tribute to Penelope Cruz hosted by the Los Angeles Timesí Kenneth Turan.  Finally, there are previews and stills galleries.

Summary:

Volver is the kind of motion picture that only Pedro Almodovar could make, and thank God for him.  His tale of some amazing women is funny and touching, and ultimately unforgettable.

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