The bigger the lie, the greater the laughter.
Any of you who think lives can’t be influenced from the grave had better hustle off to see Pedro Almodovar’s “Volver.” The movie opens with a marvelous scene of women tending family gravestones – polishing, scrubbing, weeding, neatening – while they reminisce. Then it’s off to home and individual lives. We are introduced to these lives and the people who live them so cleverly that within an hour we know them well enough to chuckle easily at their idiosyncrasies.
Death is the dominant theme in this movie, followed closely by abuse, adultery, betrayal and murder. Wait, don’t stop reading. These are dramas that we never see. It is the after effects of these things that the women in this movie must deal with, and deal with them they do, in a neatly developed plot that unfolds not with shocks and surprises, but with gentle inevitability. We merely nod our heads in agreement – “Yes, of course that’s what happened.”
This dark comedy with a big heart is – I think - Mr. Almodovar’s observation that it is women who deal with the debris of life. And he knows, as he has shown us many times before, that they deal with those problems alone. There are very few men in this picture, and those who visit, disappear very quickly. These women are trying to right the wrongs wrought by their men, and often in the attempt, they are comically ill prepared for what comes their way. But, and this is part of the Spanish/American cultural difference, the women don’t even blink at the grotesque; they just deal with it.
It is the absolute calm with which they handle things that brings the laughter. The disposal of a body, the ghostly return of the dead, moving a heavy freezer onto a truck – all of it generates a warm sympathy for the women who cope with the impossible and suggests the director’s own admiration for the strength of the women in his life. Volver, after all, means “to return,” and Almodovar knows these women very well from an earlier time.
The women: Raimunda (Penelope Cruz), her sister Sole (Lola Duenas), their mother Irene (Carmen Maura, in a performance full of wit and understanding,) and their friend and plot pivot Augustina (Blanca Portillo), are all terrific in the roles of women in crisis.
Penelope Cruz, the major presence in the film, moves with wonderful European confidence, born here it seems, of acting in her own language and culture. How else could her Raimunda cope with an impossible string of events but to lie with style? The bigger the lie, the greater the laughter. These great big lies - nothing about this woman is trivial - trip quickly off the tongue of an honorable woman who knows that nothing else could possibly justify her actions. With dazzling style, Penelope Cruz has burrowed right in to Raimunda’s transformation from miserable wife to beautiful, strong, confident earth mother to everyone.
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