Pedro AlmodÃ©var is a big deal in Spanish film, and well respected worldwide by those in the know. AlmodÃ©var – director, screenwriter and producer – has had major success with films that explore complex themes and favor female characters. His latest, Volver, remains true to those qualities.
Starring PenÃ©lope Cruz (Vanilla Sky), Carmen Maura (Comunidad, La) and Lola DueÃ©as (The Sea Inside), Volver is a film about female resilience, and the power of death over life. Raimunda (Cruz) is a hardworking mother with a lazy husband and a teenage daughter, Paula. When Paula’s dad drunkenly approaches her for sex, claiming he’s not really her father, she accidentally stabs him to death. Raimunda, taking charge and protecting her daughter, cleans up the mess and hides his body in the freezer of her neighbor’s nearby vacant restaurant, which she’s supposed to be minding.
When Raimunda receives an offer to cater lunches for a film crew at the restaurant, she jumps at the chance to earn some money and enlists the help of her friends. Meanwhile, Raimunda’s mother (Carmen Maura Comunidad, La), long believed to be dead, shows up in the trunk of Raimunda’s sister’s car, alive, well, and looking to renew their relationship – unbeknownst to Raimunda, with whom she had a strained relationship.
Last in the mix we have Agustina (Blanca Portillo, The Color of the Clouds), a friend of the sisters, whose own story is closely connected to their mother. Agustina’s mother has been missing since the day the sisters’ mother “died”, and she longs to know the truth before she herself dies, of cancer.
I knew very little about Volver going in, and I was surprised to find myself enjoying it. Sure I’d heard of AlmodÃ©var, and was aware of his status as the greatest Spanish filmmaker of his time, but I also knew only two other things about his work: he favors dark stories and female characters. No offense to AlmodÃ©var, but films featuring those two elements aren’t usually high on my must-watch list. Having now seen this film, however, I’m interested to watch some of AlmodÃ©var’s work, particularly Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which also stars Carmen Maura.
That’s because it’s the powerhouse female cast that makes this film truly compelling. Between Cruz, who received an Oscar nod for this role, Maura, DueÃ©as, Portillo and even relative newcomer Yohana Cobo, who plays Cruz’ daughter, these women really communicate the depth of feeling and nuances of their relationships in Volver. There’s so much expression just in their eyes alone that the film’s many quiet, dialogue-heavy scenes have great energy, and are thus enthralling to watch.
Of course, these performances wouldn’t be as strong without AlmodÃ©var’s witty, humorous script and his expert direction. The film weaves together a complex story with smooth, flowing cinematography, and rich, detailed visuals that make the film a joy to watch.
Oh, and just in case you hadn’t guessed, all dialogue is in Spanish, with English subtitles. But don’t let that stop you, if you’re prone to that prejudice, because Volver is one of the better films of 2006.
So, how’s the DVD?
Volver is presented on one disc, in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen format. Boy, does it look good. AlmodÃ©var is known for creating films with rich colours, and Volver remains true to that reputation. Those colours are represented here in vivid form, along with sharp, detailed picture and deep blacks. My only issue is a bit of softness in a couple of the outdoor shots, but that’s a very minor complaint.
The only audio presentation is Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1. This is a pretty quiet film, heavy on dialogue, so the dynamic range here is fairly narrow. That doesn’t mean the quality is low, but rather that you just won’t notice that the sound is good. Dialogue is perfectly audible down to bare whisper, and the film’s score fills out the sound stage nicely.
Subtitles are only available in English.
This release of Volver offers a decent selection of bonus material. Here’s what we get:
- Audio commentary: in Spanish, by director Pedro AlmodÃ©var & PenÃ©lope Cruz. Having worked together in the past, these two have a good rapport. However, the director tends to say what’s happening on screen rather than comment on it, which weakens the track.
- Cast Interviews: separate interviews offering 10 minutes with AlmodÃ©var, five with Cruz and eight with Carmen Maura. The women are asked about reuniting with this renowned director, while AlmodÃ©var discusses his intentions for the film.
- Tribute to PenÃ©lope Cruz: an AFI Fest piece, with low production values. Runs about 18 minutes, and as you guess, discusses Cruz’ film career. It’s worth a look.
There’s also a photo gallery and a poster gallery, along with a collection of nine previews.
Volver is a superb film from a world-renowned filmmaker. This DVD does justice to the work of AlmodÃ©var and his fine, nearly all-female cast, with excellent video, good audio and decent special features. Definitely worth checking out.