First thing you gotta know about Pedro Almodovar : the man loves breasts.
Okay, not necessarily the first thing, but it does help to know. While this isn't all that unusual a fascination when it comes to gay men (as some of my indignant female friends have discovered over the years), Almodovar simply loves exploiting Penelope Cruz's impossibly perfect curves to great effect. Startling contrasts are made with other images in the same frame, : a technique which works as a great complement to a movie that revels in contrasts itself.
Volver you see, is a piece of cinema washed in warmth and colour. Which would be unremarkable, save for the fact that the central plot point features a murder, a death, and a visitation from the grave. Infact, it explodes in such a profusion of this warmth from the get go, that its a bit of a shock when the colour red, otherwise bringing attention to Cruz's firebrand lips, suddenly fills the frame in a burst of blood. What’s even more surprising, then, is how the movie maintains that initial buoyant mood right through the course of a plot that would’ve belonged to a grisly disturbing thriller.
This strangely cheerful tone about death kickstarts the movie with a kinetic tracking shot potraying a busy day at the graveyard for the women of La Mancha. Penelope Cruz as Raimunda is married to a recently unemployed labourer, soon to be murdered by their teenage daughter as he attempts to make advances on her. The murder haunts the mother-daughter duo, even as Raimunda's sister Sole is herself haunted by their dead mother. Of course, everything is not as it seems, and before you know it, skeletons come tumbling out of long buried closets.
As the introductions to the plot points and the characters whizz past, the anchor of Cruz's volatile performance brings the unlikely tale to life. Rarely do I pay attention to the enunciations of dialogue in a foreign language movie where I have to depend on subtitles, and yet so magnetic is Cruz here that you can't help but linger on every lilt in her tongue. She's complemented perfectly by the quietly empathetic forms of Sole and the ghostly mother.
Unusually , instead of building up to a climax, Volver elects to do away with most of its major high stakes drama within the first hour, then choosing to slowly ebb into a gentle rhythm. The lack of urgency works well; once you've been properly introduced to these characters, it's hugely rewarding simply to observe them in their most minute affairs. This, Almodovar does with a masterly flair, further evoking a great sense of time and place through moments such as at a funeral, when the camera strategically pans down from the ceiling to show Sole nestled in a tangle of commiserating hugs.
A hint of a romance remains unconsummated, hidden from the audience – but gives the reassurance that Raimunda’s got her admirers, and she’s not going to simply cast them away. I'm glad that we have that sidebar of a reassurance atleast. These characters are constructed with such tenderness, that I couldn't help but hope for the best for them myself.
Even when they occasionally have to resort to abetting murder.