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Friday, June 22, 2007

'Volver'

The love of women


Filmmaker Pedro Almodovar loves women and he's not afraid to announce it either. Probably one of the most fearless and creative directors working today, Almodovar has consistently explored what it is to be a woman and it seems like his level of enthrallment increases with every film.

Volver Rating: (4 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star
Volver
Penelope Cruz in "Volver"

Director: Pedro Almodovar
Running time: 120 minutes
Language: Spanish
Opens June 30, 2007
[See Japan Times movie listing]

In his latest, "Volver," Almodovar returns to his favored and sacred theme of mothers and daughters ("All About My Mother" and the earlier "High Heels" leap to mind), and this time he shuts out the men altogether it's just him and the girls.

This is a man who grew up among many sisters and aunts, listened to their conversations, learned to appreciate their concerns and became that rarity among male filmmakers: someone who knows what women want. (Who else could make a movie about two women consigned to hospital beds in permanent comas, and title it "Talk To Her?") Almodovar certainly knows how to treat women and judging from "Volver" he has a special place in his heart for mothers and daughters.

The centerpiece, mindful of a wild hibiscus in full bloom, is Raimunda (played by a ravishing Penelope Cruz), a woman with a 15-year-old daughter living in a windy village in La Mancha. Known chiefly for its windmills and setting for Don Quixote's adventures, the region is drawn here as a women's turf. Women pound the pavements, hail each other on the street, work like dogs and rush home to put dinner on the table. The men die early or take off and never come back, and their graves (or memories) are tended by their womenfolk. The opening scenes show women of various ages cleaning and scrubbing the tombstones of the deceased; this appears to be a traditional Sunday ritual. Raimunda, her daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo) and her sister Sole (Lola Duenas) are at the cemetery too, polishing the tombstones of the sisters' parents who died in a fire 10 years ago. There are no men present, though the women are married or have boyfriends somewhere about. Raimunda takes it for granted that her husband Paco stays at home with the TV on, lying on a sofa strewn with empty beer cans, and that when she gets home he won't have budged. She immediately ties on an apron and heads to the kitchen while, on the couch, Paco casts a lecherous glance at Paula's long legs. This, after casually informing Raimunda that he's been fired. "Oh well, I guess this means I have to work Sundays as well," she sighs. Raimunda comes home next day to find her husband dead on the kitchen floor as the result of Paula defending herself against his sexual advances you can see what registers in her face is mostly rage, relief and a certain, well-deserved vindictiveness. Without further ado she hides his body in the freezer of a local restaurant where she used to work. And life goes on.

Like many women who work and raise families, Raimunda doesn't have the time or luxury to ponder over her actions even if that happens to be the concealment of her husband's corpse. She does what the moment calls for and quickly moves on to whatever comes next. And it's not just her, it's Sole, Paula and most every other woman in the community. When Raimunda asks a prostitute friend to help transport the freezer (with Paco's body inside) to a remote mountainside locale and offers to pay the hourly rate the friend agrees, shuts up and does the job. Clearly Raimunda is in some kind of trouble so why worry her with questions and arguments?

The scene where the pair slip out of their slinky summer dresses (and it should be noted that Raimunda is always dressed to the nines and fully made-up no matter what disaster may be raging) into sweats and sneakers so they can heave the freezer into a van is just about the sexiest thing going on in this movie, and that's saying A LOT. But the coolest and most blase among all these cool gals has got to be the supposed ghost of Raimunda and Sole's long-dead mother (Carmen Maura) who materializes out of thin air and moves in with Sole in her apartment. Sole is terrified at first but soon takes this in stride and begins living with "Mama" again as if she were a sweet teenage daughter instead of a tired, disappointed woman whose husband had picked up and left years ago. The pair get a thriving beauty salon going right in the apartment and rope in Paula, who also quickly accepts the fact that her grandmother has somehow returned and is there to protect her family, especially her mother.

The whole thing is shot in Almodovar's trademark, scarlet-toned color scheme. From Raimunda's cherry-red lipstick to the deep-red bed covers in Sole's apartment, the frames are drenched in rouge hues that speak not of love or sexual passion but the blood ties between mother and daughter, and their powerful, instinctive impulse to protect each other. When a neighbor comes knocking on Raimunda's door the night she hides Paco's body and notices a drop of blood on her face, Raimunda valiantly laughs and says, "It's nothing, just the usual women's trouble." How's that for wit and courage?



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