Señorita Penélope Cruz plays Raimunda, a resourceful and strong-willed woman, who is first seen in the windy region of La Mancha – her childhood hometown. Along with her sister Sole (Lola Duenas) and her blossoming daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo), she is there to visit her mother Irene (Carmen Maura), whose grave lies in the cemetery, and her aunt Paula (Chus Lampreave), who’s getting old and hopelessly senile. Days later, two people close to her dies. One of them she finds in her kitchen floor, stabbed with a shiny knife. She furtively disposes the corpse and hides it in a big freezer. I will not go into details as to how the lifeless body ended up in her home. The less you know about this Almodóvar’s movie, any movie of his for that matter, the better. Part of the nail biting fun is discovering the shocking twists and turns.

If you have not discovered Almodóvar yet, you are missing out on the one of the world’s premiere cinematic storytellers. His lurid style is inspired by film noirs, Spanish melodramas, and Hitchcockian thrillers. In Volver, this is the first time I catch him incorporating an element of horror. The Spanish title means “to return” and perhaps it refers to a ghost which unbelievably comes back among the living. The set-up for this premise is about perfect. Volver vividly takes place in a local village, where unreal phantoms and supernatural spirits are part of the reality. There is a familiar chill in the air as people tell stories of eerie ghost sightings and sounds. Yikes – what does one do when a ghost materializes? Spirits of the dead do not necessarily mean harm, right? They show up because they are desperate for some help, right? Oh, the fear of the unknown.

Almodóvar is skillful in unveiling answers, teasing us yet it never feels like he’s manipulating us. Never once did I feel frustrated or stuck because the plot kept moving; the movie is energized every time it heads into an interesting direction. As I mentioned before, the movie has twists and turns, however, they aren’t simply there for the cheap stunt of blindsiding us. The overall story of Volver runs deep and wide; it exhumes the past and outstretches its arms to embrace and celebrate motherhood and sisterhood. The female cast is simply stellar; no wonder they won the communal “Best Actress” award in last year’s Cannes. But I think Penélope Cruz needs to be singled out. In American films, she seems out of place and sounds a bit tongue-tied. But in Volver, at home with her own language and culture, Cruz has emerged as a screen goddess who brings out a striking and beautiful performance. It is as if she has finally come to life for us.

Grade: A+

Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Duenas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo, Chus Lampreave, Antonio de la Torre, and Carlos Blanco
Screenplay by
Pedro Almodóvar
Directed by
Pedro Almodóvar
Rated R for some sexual content and language