‘Volver’ offers valuable return
And you thought you had secrets in your family. “Volver” (Spanish for “to return”) tells the story of a mother who comes back to her two grown daughters after her death to address some unresolved issues.Don’t go thinking this is some crazy sci-fi flick, though: The surreal aspect of the film fades as the depth of the family’s truth is unveiled. The plot unravels in a most unpredictable way thanks to the prowess of director and writer Pedro Almodovar, who is something of a Martin Scorsese in Spain. Oh, by the way, the film is in Spanish with English subtitles.Raimunda (Oscar nominee Penelope Cruz) struggles to keep her teenage daughter and lazy, beer-guzzling husband fed while carrying the weight of the family’s history and woes. Her sister Soledad is slightly more of the happy-go-lucky variety, running an unofficial beauty salon out of her apartment while remaining single. When the sisters’ elderly aunt passes away, neighbors in the village inform them that their aunt had a reliable caretaker throughout her years of deteriorating health – their mother, who had died years ago in a house fire. The sisters initially dismiss this bit of news as the ramblings of superstitious villagers. But lo and behold, the dead mother indeed appears – or is she not so dead? The character immediately challenges our preconceptions of ghosts when she stows away in the trunk of a car, dives under the bed when she doesn’t want to be seen, eats meals with Soledad and moves into the guest bedroom. Sheesh. Don’t these foreign directors know that dead people can evaporate on command? But this is not so much a film about dead people as it is about incest and forgiveness. All the characters have an uncanny ability to string together a light and sometimes funny series of dialogue and transactions while a rather grave (no pun intended) undertone surges throughout. In fact, there’s probably not another incest-related film on the planet that is this easy to watch. Not that it makes light of the issue. It simply shows how someone who falls victim to such a nightmare learns to press on with her life. The story also gives buoyancy to the odd nature of coincidence. Families, after all, are more prone to patterns than just about anything. This story could very easily go from black to pitch-black. Instead, Almodovar steers it into the much more comfortable realm of grey to whitish. Warm gestures and quirky village characters who constantly look after one another make it damn near colorful. There’s Regina, the overweight prostitute who accompanies Raimunda (who pays her by the hour) to dig a grave in the middle of the night for a body that has been kept in a freezer. There’s Agustina, the cancer patient who lights up a joint every five minutes, and there are the salon clients, who unload their life stories onto people who don’t even speak their language. “Volver” is a rare, refreshingly un-Hollywood endeavor. It serves up a thick slice of life without all the weight that normally comes with it. For those of us slow in Spanish, it’s definitely worth two hours of reading subtitles.