Reunited with Spanish writer/director Pedro Almodovar for the third time, Penelope Cruz delivers a volatile, earthy, uncompromising performance in this loosely autobiographical surrealistic black comedy about an extended family of women in Madrid.
Raimunda (Cruz) and her sister Sole (Lola Duenas) are dutiful daughters, faithfully cleaning their parents and grandparents graves in La Mancha cemetery and visiting their elderly, senile aunt (Chus Lampreave). Raimunda, who is married to worthless Paco (Antonio de la Torre), works two jobs to support her 14 year-old daughter, Paula (Yohana Cobo), whom Paco tries to rape. In self-defense, the teenager kills him. Resourceful Raimunda dumps Pacos body in the freezer of a nearby restaurant thats for sale. Thats where shes contracted with a visiting film crew to cater lunches while the owners out of town. Meanwhile, Sole comes to believe that their late mother (Carmen Maura) is not dead, insisting shes come back seemingly supernatural – with sordid secrets to reveal, some involving Augustina (Blanca Portillo), a family friend who is dying of inoperable cancer.
Obviously influenced by Italian neo-realism, Almodovar accurately describes this convoluted tale as a cross between Mildred Pierce and Arsenic and Old Lace to which Id add a bit of soap opera thrown in. The title means to return in Spanish.
Almodovars prevalent themes of sex, religion and death are best characterized by cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaines deceptively subtle shot of voluptuous Penelope Cruz leaning over a kitchen sink, washing a bloody kitchen knife with a crufix hanging around her neck. In Spanish with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Volver is a warm, whimsical 8. While superstitious, these three generations of women are ingenious, contriving clever solutions to lifes most perplexing problems.