331 – Volver

The luscious and luminous Penelope Cruz plays a Spanish woman at the center of a close-knit family of (mostly) women in this Pedro Almodovar tale of murder, family secrets, trust, and hairdressing. Cruz’s Oscar-nominated performance and the beautiful cinematography of Jose Luis Alcaine lift this from being more than just your run-of-the-mill double-crossing family-issues movie.

Raimunda (Cruz) is a vivacious, busty working woman (no, not a hooker) who’s married to Paco and has a teenage daughter, Paula (Yohana Cobo). Turns out Paco’s a bit of an ass – as most males are in Almodovar films – and when he loses his job, his assness (yes, that is a word, now) goes off the charts. Stuff happens, and soon there’s no more Paco to worry about.

Raimunda’s sister Sole (Lola Duenas), an underground hairdresser – who knew they existed? – also lives in the city; the sisters lost their parents years ago in a house fire and now spend time with their mother’s sister Paula, a doddering woman who acts as if her sister is still alive. The sisters remark about how Tia Paula seems to have lost her marbles, but at least she has a neighbor looking in on her every day. And then, of course, the old woman dies.

Sounds tragic, right? Only it turns out that now people in the village are seeing Raimunda’s mother, long dead, that she’s appearing to them all because she needs to complete something she’d begun in life. What could it be? At first Irene appears to everyone but Raimunda, especially Sole, who takes her mother in as a hairdresser’s assistant, a mute Russian. (Trust me, it makes more sense in the movie.)

And while all of this is going on, Raimunda has somehow taken over the neighborhood restaurant (she was just supposed to show it to a prospective buyer while the owner was away but has opened it to cater for a film crew). SO you can see there’s plenty of chaos going on in their little world.

Cruz’s explosive performance as the self-centered Raimunda is the vortex of the entire film, galvanizing the other actors – not to mention a pretty snappy script, by Almodovar – into a miasma of wit and emotion. Above all else, emotion. I mean, after all, it’s a Spanish movie. They don’t make placid, lifeless movies in the Spanish language – check out Telemundo on any given day, and you’ll see what I mean. Everyone speaks MUY RAPIDO! and with feeling! Of course, not being a native Spanish speaker works against me there. But here, not so much. Never mind the subtitles – they’re helpful, but you can still get the jist of things just by watching the incredible Cruz work. She looks positively radiant and walks off with virtually every scene she’s in (which would be almost all of them). Cruz’s Raimunda is passionate, vibrant, beautiful and beauteous, and she’s the single best reason to watch this clever, involving film that really hits its stride with a nifty twist in the final reel or so.

***

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