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Movie Review: Volver

Written and directed by Pedro Almodovar
Sony Pictures Classics

Besides Akira Kurosawa, I don’t think any non-US director in the history of film gets more acclaim than Almodovar.  Every new picture he releases comes with a flood of raves before any normal moviegoer gets to see it.  And why not?  He always seems to bring the best out in his performers, and his stories are often entertaining and well-told.  For some, he can be a bit overrated, and some film snobs prefer his lesser-known films to the ones that regularly receive accolades.  As for me, I’ve enjoyed the few films I’ve seen of his; Talk to Her was one of my favorite movies of 2002.

The plot details are going to sound confusing, but the movie is set up in such a way that it’s not.  Try to follow me:

Raimunda (Penelope Cruz, radiant, and getting Oscar buzz) is a single mother to Paula (Yohana Cobo) and sister to Sole (Lola Duenas).  The sisters have just visited their mother’s grave, and go for a visit to their Aunt Paula (Chus Lampreave), who swears she still sees their mother every day.  Aunt Paula is just considered a bit crazy, declining in age.  Another woman in the neighborhood named Agustina (Blanca Portillo) takes care of her.  Agustina’s mother disappeared on the same day that Raimunda and Sole’s mother and father died in a fire.

Back at the homestead, Raimunda is married to a deadbeat named Paco (Antonio de la Torre), who leches after young, teenage Paula because he knows that he’s not her father but mostly because he’s an asshole.  It’s not long before Paco is accidentally slain by Paula, and Raimunda has to clean up the mess, stashing the body until she can find a way to bury it.  A friend, Emilio(Carlos Blanco), wanting to sell his restaurant leaves his keys with Raimunda so he can go on a trip and she can show it while he’s gone.  Without his knowledge, she uses one of the restaurant’s freezers to stash the body, and also opens it up for a film crew every day for lunch.

Meanwhile, Aunt Paula dies and Sole starts seeing her mom (Carmen Maura, who is excellent) again.  Is Sole crazy?  It’s agreed that Sole won’t tell her sister about mom just now.  Agustina believes Raimunda and Sole’s mom knows where her own mom is, and wants answers.

If that sounds like a lot of plot developments all rolled into one, it is.  And a few of them don’t really figure into the overall plot, although they do serve some purpose.  I still wonder if Almodovar had two ideas at once and he decided to combine them, because the movie clearly would be fine without Paco and the restaurant subplots; it’s a McGuffin, a sort of diversion to keep Raimunda in the dark about her mother’s ghostly return.

I’d be lying if I told you the movie didn’t grip me, no matter which story Volver decides to focus on.  The plot structure does leave some pieces missing and leaves some head-scratchers, but when the film starts uncovering revelations and surprises, it manages to come together and is an overall good experience.

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