ANDREW CLARKE Imagine it if you can - Blithe Spirit crossed with The Ladykillers - then you have got something that approximates Volver, the latest black comedy from cult Spanish director Pedro Almodovar.
Imagine it if you can - Blithe Spirit crossed with The Ladykillers - then you have got something that approximates Volver, the latest black comedy from cult Spanish director Pedro Almodovar.
It's a wonderfully concocted cocktail of death, murder and family life, where the dead don't always stay under ground. As with Almodovar's other films, such as All About My Mother and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, it celebrates the role of women as the backbone of society. Penelope Cruz stars in this ensemble piece as Raimunda, the mother of a teenage daughter.
They are part of a tight-knit, extended family and the film opens with them all toiling away cleaning the grave of their parents who died tragically together. On their way home they call in on an aged aunt who claims that Raimunda's mother is still alive. They assume that she is slowly losing her mind, but can there be a more supernatural explanation?
Back at home, Raimunda's husband has lost his job and started taking an unhealthy interest in her daughter - as a result, he comes to a sticky end. The problem now is what to do with the body…
The film now develops into a neatly paced farce as Raimunda has to smuggle her dead husband out of a busy apartment block in the middle of town and find a quiet spot in which to bury him. She recruits the local prostitute at her normal hourly rate to help her with the move and if that wasn't enough her normally sensible sister Sole (Dueñas) is now playing host to the spirit of their dead mother and at times is even helping her in her hairdressing business.
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Having temporarily disposed of her husband's body, Raimunda re-opens a local restaurant and settles down to what she assumes will be a more settled, quieter life, but when she least expects it, she discovers that the past has a habit of catching up with you.
Volver, which means "to return" in Spanish, is that rarest of commodities in the film world, a beautifully crafted, wonderfully performed ensemble comedy about death.
It's touching, funny and will have you glued to the screen throughout, alternately catching your breath and making you laugh. Almodovar knows how to create warm and loving relationships and in this these are between women. Men only exist at the periphery of the action. They are either the source of the trouble or provide an obstacle to be overcome.
But the atmosphere that permeates through the film is warm, loving and extremely funny. Penelope Cruz, playing someone slightly older than she is, leads a superb ensemble cast and everyone won a joint Best Actress prize at Cannes this year. Cruz creates a character which is tough and resourceful and yet also tender and loving. Her relationship with her daughter and with her elderly aunt is a joy to watch. This relationship is underscored by some lovely dialogue. At one point she chides her daughter for not talking to her and the daughter looks wearily at her mother and just says: "I'm at that difficult age." The timing, even with sub-titles, is an object lesson for other more mainstream film-makers.
There is also a gentle, dignified sub-plot which involves another sister quietly and secretly slowing dying of cancer. This is Pedro Almodovar and European cinema at its best. It's a very approachable movie and if you want to dip your toe in the waters of foreign language cinema, then this is a wonderful movie to start with.
A heartwarming delight from beginning to end.