Volver - Pedro Almodovar - Spain 2006 Penelope Cruz
Viewed Tyneside Cinema - 17 09 06 Ticket price £6-20
The opening shot of Volver (v. to return) tracks through the graveyard of the village where the women are washing and cleaning the graves of their loved ones: women’s work with a menacing undertone carrying the tacit idea of woman’s implication in the process of death - especially the demise of the male. Like a lot of Almodovar’s filmic images it promises to open up for us a cinematic world. As in most of his films, the occasional visual flair displayed by Almodovar in Volver leads only to hopes dashed, an experience that by the end of the film, amounts to no more than substandard TV visual fare fleshed out with female leads posing as iconic feminists. Volver is a witchy film whose scenario, laboriously constructed out of tired old plot ideas, finally predicates the witchy world as the consequence of an originary primal act: incest. Incest of father on the daughter. The which(sic), in terms of the nuclear family, is a double betrayal of the model female: the wife’s love and trust and daughter’s innocence. The disturbance of ‘nature’ by the male’s unnatural acts, leads not as in the Arthurian legend to myth but to soap opera.
In Volver the cemetery scene is simply a device - it has no other function than to introduce a situation rather than an idea. It is a scripted a plaster and wood contrivance that exists to introduce us to Raimunda (Penelope Cruz) and to the world of suburban witchery that she personifies. In Almodovar’s kitsch suburban world the women outlive the men and the men are either mad bad or false. But this world with its sisterly collusion, its knowing looks, its explosive kissing (the soundtrack’s tricksy amplification highlights the suck-smack sound of the lips as the women kiss each other) its situational humour, is a Disneyesque creation. Volver is a flat two dimensional cartoon, where the characters emit the fake intensity of Donald Duck as they go through the motions of their witchy affective parody.
At the centre of Volver’s action is Raimunda(Penelope Cruz). Raimunda is voluptuous acarnal witch. With her permanently glowing eyes framed with black liner she looks like an escapee from the Adamms family house. The plot, such as it is, follows Raimunda as she, with the help of her coven, takes on and surmounts the challenges of murder, men, low income and family problems. The script with its interweaving dramatic lines is structured like a soap opera. All the tired plotting devices of this format are brought into play: we have a murder, we have disclosure of a false father, death, the return of a character thought to be dead(at the core of the film is the return of Raimunda’s mother - not dead but hiding). The situations the secret return of themother, a new business enterprise, the disposal of the body - all these are given the comedic treatment by virtue of their dissonance with domestic routine. The script with its intertwined strips of action, gives license to the actresses, Penelope Cruz in particular, to emote pose and witch in different situations as doors open and close with mechanical regularity to divide and partition the scenes.
The mechanality of the plot line is matched by the camera work which in slavish response to the banality of the action laboriously tracks and pans in order to find any excuse for movement. Keep it moving said the director. The laborious camera movement underscores the predictibility of the script. When Raimunda returns to her apartment, the camera tracks then pans with her car, as she slows down and pulls into in a parking space. We see the parking space, we see the moving vehicle we see her park in the space: so we know, with know with banal certitude that this space and no other is where this movie has destined her to park her car. Almodovar seems to believe that in shooting a film he owes it to the audience to make everything that is to happen in the film predictable, including his shot sequences. For example: on the way to the village there is a large wind farm, a huge agglomeration of turbines. This cues a meaningful close up of one of the turbines the rotation of its sails…symbolic perhaps…. of the circular nature of life and death or whatever.
No less predictible is the script. In the sequence leading up to the murder of the false father by his daughter: first we see him drunk; then we see (point of view of the ‘father’ a pan down)his look at his daughter’s crotch as she sits open legged in front of him in pink tights; then we see him sneaking past her room looking at her titties whilst she is undressing; finally, in one take, we see him refused sex by Raimunda and then hear his grunts and cock pumping as he masturbates. Almadovar doesn’t engage in anticipatory hints he telegraphs his intentions. The consequence of the dead and heavy uninspired camera work and the lumbering clumsy script is that Volver has no tension. It feels like a dead film: in composition, scenario and in characters.
Volver as movie without tension offers little more that an occasion to create an excuse for a contemporary Spanish witchy world. Like musicals that exist only as an excuse for the star to go through a series of numbers, its OK if you like the star and the music. Usually these vehicles have few cinematic qualities. As a film maker Almodovar has made films which are by and large stylistic vehicles for conveying a certain brand of post feminist chuzpah. Their filmic quality depends on the engaging qualities of his female leads and their encapsulation of the outer form of feminist attitudes without the substance.
adrin neatrour 18 Sept 06