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An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: Volver (2006)

PUBLISHED: 12:20 02 November 2017 | UPDATED: 12:20 02 November 2017

Volver, starring Penelope Cruz, is Pedro Almodovar's masterwork bringing together his themes of women, love, death and relationships in a delicious black comedy. Photo: Pathe

Volver, starring Penelope Cruz, is Pedro Almodovar's masterwork bringing together his themes of women, love, death and relationships in a delicious black comedy. Photo: Pathe

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Films with re-watch value, movies with a unique quality, will become the classics of the future. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies that may entertain if you are in the mood for something different.

Volver, starring Penelope Cruz, is Pedro Almodovar's masterwork bringing together his themes of women, love, death and relationships in a delicious black comedy. Photo: Pathe Volver, starring Penelope Cruz, is Pedro Almodovar's masterwork bringing together his themes of women, love, death and relationships in a delicious black comedy. Photo: Pathe

Volver; dir: Pedro Almodóvar; starring: Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo, Chus Lampreave, María Isabel Díaz, Neus Sanz, Leandro Rivera, Antonio de la Torre. Cert: 15 (2006)

Pedro Almodovar is a highly distinctive film-maker – as distinctive as Tim Burton, Alfred Hitchcock or Quentin Tarantino. A film-maker with a set of pre-occupations and a visual style that is all his own – so much so, that you immediately recognise his work on screen even if you may have missed the main titles.

Volver, starring Penelope Cruz, is Pedro Almodovar's masterwork bringing together his themes of women, love, death and relationships in a delicious black comedy. Photo: Pathe Volver, starring Penelope Cruz, is Pedro Almodovar's masterwork bringing together his themes of women, love, death and relationships in a delicious black comedy. Photo: Pathe

Almodovar, as he is frequently known, loves women. He loves to explore the complex relationships that women have between family, friends, lovers, husbands, children and the church. It’s a fertile subject matter which has fuelled a career rather than provided a topic for a film or two.

He maintains a sense of continuity by pulling actors out of a loose stock company. Familiar faces pop up in a variety of roles, both large and small, over a number of films over the period of a 20 years or more.

Of all the actors who have graced his films over the years, the one who has earned the title of Muse is Penelope Cruz and Volver is their greatest achievement together.

Volver, starring Penelope Cruz, is Pedro Almodovar's masterwork bringing together his themes of women, love, death and relationships in a delicious black comedy. Photo: Pathe Volver, starring Penelope Cruz, is Pedro Almodovar's masterwork bringing together his themes of women, love, death and relationships in a delicious black comedy. Photo: Pathe

It’s touching, quirky, warm-hearted and funny. It’s a celebration of life and family through death. If North By Northwest is the perfect distillation of Hitchcock’s themes and obsessions, then Volver is Almodovar’s equivalent masterwork.

The film opens with all the women of the community tending to the graves of their loved ones. By eaves-dropping on their busy conversations we get to learn something about them. Most of the graves are men. It is left to the women to get on with life.

Raimunda (Cruz) is essentially a single mother, married to Paco (Antonio de la Torre), an unemployed alcoholic, she manages to keep down a number of jobs just to keep the wolf from the door. However, she is forced to be even more resourceful when Paula, her teenage daughter, rebuffs the advances of her step-father with tragic consequences.

Volver, starring Penelope Cruz, is Pedro Almodovar's masterwork bringing together his themes of women, love, death and relationships in a delicious black comedy. Photo: Pathe Volver, starring Penelope Cruz, is Pedro Almodovar's masterwork bringing together his themes of women, love, death and relationships in a delicious black comedy. Photo: Pathe

With a fresh corpse on their hands, Volver transforms itself from domestic drama into a fast-paced black comedy. While worrying about how to dispose of the body, they have to more publicly mourn the passing of elderly Aunt Paula (Chus Lampleave), the woman who raised Raimunda and her sister Sole (Lola Duenas) after the death of their mother Irene.

But, Raimunda is worried about her sister as she appears to be acting a little odd. It appears that she has a secret of her own – the ghost of her mother is haunting her. But, is she really a ghost?

Meantime, Raimunda freed from the constraints of her feckless husband grabs the opportunity to fulfil a lifelong ambition – to run a bar and be her own boss.

Volver, starring Penelope Cruz, is Pedro Almodovar's masterwork bringing together his themes of women, love, death and relationships in a delicious black comedy. Photo: Pathe Volver, starring Penelope Cruz, is Pedro Almodovar's masterwork bringing together his themes of women, love, death and relationships in a delicious black comedy. Photo: Pathe

Almodovar has crafted a film full of passion and drama but more importantly love and good humour. Despite, the, at times, dark subject matter this is a light, bright, life-affirming film and I suspect a love letter to the women who shaped Almodovar’s own childhood in Franco’s Spain.

This is a rich, multi-layered movie which proves more rewarding every time to revisit it. There are different threads to explore, different character arcs to follow and by concentrating on one you miss details in another.

For all its good-humour and light-infused visuals, death – one of Almodovar’s pre-occupations – is everywhere in this film, but, it’s not sober death. It’s death as part of a cycle of life and as the ghost of Irene proves, just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you can’t have an active role to play in daily life.

Almodovar held extensive group rehearsals for all the women before shooting began and this bonding process shows up on screen. These women really do know and love one another. It’s also Penelope Cruz’s best performance to date. Away from the sexy foreign seductress roles that Hollywood insists on giving her, she comes across as a funny, well-rounded woman and part of a larger community.

As Raimunda she is able to show a whole variety of different traits and emotions which gives this film a sense of believability in a surreal and outlandish world. It’s a world where past and present collide and manage to co-exist and where dreams do come true.

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