January 27, 2007

Movie Review: Volver

When I entered the theater and sat down in the darkened room, I had no idea what I was in for. I knew very little about the film, and had not seen a single frame. I knew that it was highly regarded, and that star Penelope Cruz was recently nominated for the Best Actress Oscar. On top of that, the only previous experience I had with the films of Pedro Almodovar was 2004's Bad Education, which I enjoyed. Anyway, I sat in the darkness and waited for the film to begin.

Volver opens with a right to left tracking shot, the pan takes you through a cemetery filled with women cleaning the graves of their deceased husbands. It is a comically morose scene that left a small smile on my face as tried to figure out what this was leading to. What I discovered at the end of the film is that it was leading everywhere and nowhere at the same time. It left me conflicted as to how much I liked it. I knew I liked it, and I am still completely convinced of that fact.

There are a few interlocking plot threads that fit together not unlike a soap opera. There is a touch of the supernatural , absurdist comedy, and Hitchcockian style murder. There are enough emotional wounds torn open to last a full television series, the murder, and its results are the stuff to make a thrill seeker sit on the edge of his seat, and the appearance of a ghostly figure that has very close to the leads and is in possession of a dark secret that comes back to haunt them all.

All of the threads come together in somewhat meandering manner. The characters are drawn to there homes, to their loved ones, to their past, and to their future. The threads which do not seem to share much in common all have a profound effect on everyone involved.

Penelope Cruz stars as Raimunda, the central character in our drama. She left her childhood home of La Manche in an attempt to escape her childhood. She is now living with her bum of a husband, Paco, and her 14 year old daughter, Paola. She lives in a constant state of flux, seemingly on the verge of just breaking down and succombing to the events of her life, yet in her fragility lies the strength to overcome. And overcome she does, the troubles of her life her given her an indomitable spirit that refuses to give up. Throughout, Cruz delivers the finest performance I have ever seen from her. There is something about how she sinks into this character and becomes one with Raimunda, it is unlike any of her Hollywood roles where the studio sees her for her exotic beauty and less for the acting talent that she possesses.

I mentioned earlier about how the film was leading everywhere and nowhere, this led to my confusion as to how much I enjoyed the film. There were elements of the story that I wanted to know more about, relationships that I wish had gone deeper, there are events that I wanted to know more about. On the side of that, the film was not so much about the events, so much as it was about the emptional change that they brought about. Volver is about the emotional journey that the events bring about.

Bottomline. For this viewer, the movie was simultaneously frustrating and satisfying. It is an odd feeling, one that I have not yet come to terms with. It is a movie that is well worth the trip, it will take you on an interesting journey into the relationships that live and die within the extended family unit. If for nothing else, you will witness the wonderful talent that is Penelope Cruz.



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