Tuesday, September 12, 2006
My rating: 4/5
To really love this film, I believe the viewer must be able to love Almodovar, as this work embodies every style and flourish that has become synonymous with his name. He is rather hit and miss with audiences. Some lap up his distinctive visuals, his adoring portraits of women and his tall tales. Others, however, find his melodrama a bit too much and no amount of saccharine imagery can make up for this.
Lets take this review from the point of view of someone who likes Almodovar. Such a viewer would probably find this film delightful in a number of ways. It is classic Almodovar in its structure, storytelling, characterisation and visual style. From the outset, the audience is presented with a technicolour extravagaza which blazes with sultry red and vibrant blue. Every shot is composed beautifully to augment the humanity and beauty of our heroines.
The story revolves around a family of women from La Mancha whose mother returns from the dead to set things right with her daughters and help dying friends through their time of suffering.
The first half hour of Volver slowly...very slowly...sets up the rather complicated story that takes up the final two acts. It drags a bit despite some moments of high drama. I was just starting to think this was going to be a major disappointment when the story properly unfolded, pulling the audience in and climbing higher and higher into the preposterousness we have come to expect from Mr Almodovar's stories. Never one to fear being over-the-top, Almodovar has a unique skill for reining in the craziness by focussing on the journey of the characters and not the story itself.
This film, more so than many of his films, has a distinct lack of respect for the male sex. It contains no admirable men. One loutish perverted husband, one cheating incestuous husband, and a landlord, bitter at being rejected by Raimunda (Cruz). The women are strictly single and well capable of managing by themselves, even into old age. At every opportunity, the camera uses Laura Mulvey's theory of the "male gaze" to mock men's inability to focus on anything other than the female form. An example of this is an overhead shot of Raimunda washing dishes. Half the screen is looking down at her ample cleavage, the other half shows her washing a large kitchen knife which is important to the story later. It makes one think that Almodovar is challenging the men to pay attention to the knife, despite the cleavage.
The performances by these women, as in all of Almodovar's work is astonishing. Each woman, ages ranging from 15 years to 80 years, produce remarkable, well-rounded characters and their joint Best Actress awards at Cannes were certainly deserved.
If you are a fan of Almodovar you should see it because it embodies everything he is so highly regarded for. If you are not familiar with him, perhaps you should give this a try. If you like it, chances are you may have found a new favourite director, or at least a refreshing antidote to the summer blockbuster season.
- Charlene Lydon 12/9/06